I’m not talking about wildly exaggerated claims of scooter-related injuries, although I do welcome the study of scooter safety by the Center for Disease Control.
I’m talking about the fact that, due to market forces or government rules, electric scooters are beginning to proliferate well outside of the downtown area. As recently as last week I complained that scooters remain rare in my South Lamar neighborhood, but looking at the scooter apps a couple days later, I think my complaint may have been outdated by a few weeks.
Look at all those scooters! Here’s a look at Lime’s service to the core ( within 183-MoPac-71):
Here’s what the Bird situation looks like down in my neck of the woods:
They’re already all over the place in Central East Austin and Mueller, but we’re also starting to see quite a few further east, around Airport and Springfield.
It’s not clear to what extent this shift to the outer areas of the core is driven by city regulations rather than market conditions. I argued last week that scooter regulation might work best if it mirrors government’s traditional approach to telecoms or utilities, where private operators are allowed to turn a profit but may also be forced to provide service to unprofitable areas or customers.
For this approach to work, the city needs to require scooter companies to disclose data on use. It cannot rely on the companies’ own claims about what is or isn’t profitable, since companies are likely to describe something that doesn’t deliver maximum profits as unprofitable. The fact that three companies are in competition is good, but given the difficulty of new players entering the market, it seems like there’s a high risk of the three existing operators becoming a cartel, fixing prices on a local or national level. Yes, Virginia, cartels are an issue in the U.S., and most of them have nothing to do with drug-traffickers at the border.
Hopefully whatever data the city needs to figure out what the right balance is between profit and service is covered in this section of the scooter ordinance:
But we’ll see.