Electric bikes and scooters: The future of urban transit?

I tried an electric bike out today. It was awesome. Also tried an electric scooter. Here are Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Member Pio Renteria trying out the latter. Photo credit goes to yours truly.

Both were made by LimeBike, which runs dockless bike-sharing programs in dozens of cities across the country. It is in town to get in on Austin’s new dockless bike-sharing pilot program. As Caleb noted in the Monitor today, the resolution approved by Council only refers to bikes (not scooters) but it didn’t seem to make any distinction between electric bikes, so I’m not clear on whether they’ll be part of the program.

The rep from LimeBike told me that renting the electric bike costs $1 plus 15¢ per minute. I think he said the average user ride is nine minutes, or $2.35. Considering how cheap public transit is in Austin ($1.25 bus fare) that seems kind of expensive. But it becomes more compelling when you consider how bad transit is otherwise (low frequency, low coverage).

If there’s any city that could use some more electric bikes, it’s Austin, where scorching summer temperatures make biking unappealing to a large portion of the population. It’s only April and my afternoon rides up South Lamar from City Hall are already getting pretty sweaty.

In fact, the same professor who I recently talked to about credit-based congestion pricing also talked up electric bikes as a potential strategy for reducing congestion. Although it’s much easier than riding a regular bike, you can still get some exercise on it, the guy at Bicycle Sport on S. Lamar assured me, particularly if you put the electric assistance low.

The problem, of course, is that they are generally very expensive. But that could change, and it looks like there are already some available for $500-600, although I can’t vouch for the quality.

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