People are scooting up a storm downtown. Their ubiquity suggests that their appeal goes beyond a novel pleasure: they are fulfilling a valuable service. However, it will take a while before we get a good sense of the size of the gap they fill. So far, at the very least, I’d say they are a convenient, affordable tool for going 0.5-2 miles in the downtown area. The extent to which one is willing to depend on them, of course, depends on income and location.
I hope that my headline in Wednesday’s Monitor sums up the feelings of our elected officials:
Despite hurt feelings, Council members embrace electric scooters
Ora Houston said she wanted to see more scooters outside of downtown, suggesting that they could make up for gaps in bus service for constituents in far East Austin. The problem is that scooters will face the same challenge there as buses: low-density, a disjointed street network and long distances from job centers.
So far, there has been talk of providing the companies “bonuses” for putting scooters in underserved areas. Presumably, that would mean providing the companies a discount on scooter licenses (current proposal is $30 per scooter for six months).
I really hope that we start seeing scooters all over town, but for that to happen the city will probably have to allow companies far more than 500 devices per company. If we limit them then the companies obviously don’t have much incentive to put them in less dense areas of town, where they won’t get as great of an ROI. In fact, why there should be any limit doesn’t make much sense to me. If they are considered a positive transportation option that should be embraced, why would we limit them?
Of course, the same issues that limit bike ridership will also limit scooting. Today, for instance, I looked at the Bird app and saw that there was a scooter about 2 miles away from me, at the HEB at Oltorf and Congress. Great, I thought. I have to pick up a couple things at the store and I’d like to take a short run. So I ran to the store with a tiny backpack on, picked up a potato, onion, a loaf of bread and two six-packs and then walked a quarter-mile to the nearest scooter.
The problem was that my typical route would be to go back on Oltorf, which lacks bike lanes. These days I am confident enough on my bike that I’m willing to make the cars move over, but I’m not yet cocky enough with the scooter, if for no other reason than I know that drivers will resent scooters on the road even more than bikes simply because they are new. So I mostly traveled on the sidewalks on Oltorf, making sure to slow down for pedestrians. Which means that I had to wait a solid five minutes before getting a walk sign at the corner of Oltorf and S. 1st. That adds 75 cents to the trip!
Of course, once I got off Oltorf, things were great. They don’t have bike paths, but otherwise the neighborhood streets in my area were built for scooting.
I’d highly recommend Dan Keshet’s in-depth analysis of what the city needs to do to embrace and encourage scooting.