For the past few months I have been observing the proliferation of electric, dockless scooters and bikes in my neighborhood and following the conversations on social media, in news articles and reading official city decisions relative to these new forms of urban mobility.
The City of Santa Monica just announced it has selected Lime, Bird, Lyft and JUMP to operate shared e-scooters and bike services as part of the City’s Shared Mobility Pilot Program. Each operator will be allowed to operate 750 devices each for a total of 1,000 e-bikes and 2,000 e-scooters to complement Santa Monica’s goal of being a truly multi-modal city.
Despite the perceived inconvenience of free-floating bikes and scooters on sidewalks, I truly believe these vehicles help transform the urban mobility landscape and provide a low-cots, first/last-mile solution for getting around a city.
The investment community also sees the potential as do “new mobility” companies such as Uber and Lyft, that once disrupted the urban mobility landscape and are searching for new ways of remaining competitive. Indeed, Bird has raised a total of $415 million and Lime $467 million including from Uber. Earlier this year Uber acquired JUMP bikes, provider of shared, dockless electric bikes for $200 million and Lyft recently acquired Motivate, the largest bike-sharing network in the US for $250 million. JUMP and Lyft are also getting into the electric scooter business, and Lime and Bird have also recently deployed their scooters in Paris and I am sure will be in many more cities very soon. Today scooter companies operate in 65 cities.
I have ridden Birds, Lime, JUMP bikes, as well as my own bike to get around and am fascinated with all these new options that allow me to easily move throughout my neighborhood and not have to use a car. Many residents complain about dockless bikes and scooters cluttering streets and being a safety hazard, and I agree with them when I see the careless attitude of some users. I have spent many weekends on the beach path observing Santa Monica Police standing in front of a “no scooter-zone” sign trying to redirect scooter riders onto the actual bike path where they are required to ride.
As the urban mobility landscape is clearly changing, these recent developments are forcing everyone to seriously think about public rights of way, sidewalk and street use, parking and who should pay for all of it. Additionally, it is forcing us to rethink about mobility and multi-modality. As Uber and Lyft start taking part in e-scooters and e-bikes, just as auto manufacturers have started participating in the on-demand or shared economy, mobility is about access to a service through an easy to use platform. Those who understand this and will be able to provide a seamless experience will win in this new mobility space.
The issue will not resolve overnight but I am comforted in the fact that there is an actual debate going on and discussion between private companies, public officials, community organizations and local residents, as well as pilot programs being put in place to figure out how to make this all work.
Featured photo by Steve Jurvetson – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/40966159810