Last week, shared micromobility operators Bird, Lime, Spin and Superpedestrian published recommendations on how they want local governments to regulate shared electric bikes and scooters. While micromobility researchers and consultants who spoke with Smart Cities Dive largely agree with the recommendations, some worry about what those recommendations don’t address.
The recommendations cover a wide range of financial and operational concerns that include limiting the number of micromobility operators in a market based on market size and initial fleet size, rate-setting and standardizing data-sharing requirements.
The researchers and consultants broadly support those recommendations but disagree on the optimal contract length.
Experts agree with the companies’ recommendation of two-year pilot programs, as many pilot programs take time to ramp up to a full fleet, gather data and approach profitably as micromobility operators learn the market. In an interview, Yu Zhang, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of South Florida, said that “if you restricted [the contracts to] one year, the operators would not have enough time to gradually come up to the right fleet number.”
However, there’s some disagreement about the companies’ recommendation of three- to four-year contracts for permanent programs, which they say will encourage long-term investment and rider adoption.
Doogie Roux, an independent micromobility consultant and former director of operations at Houston Bike Share, said in an interview that those recommendations made sense because it takes “three to five years, at a minimum, to really get in a groove” as the public adopts shared micromobility services and operators develop relationships and partnerships in the community.
But Jason Jackman, a senior research associate at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research, said in an interview that two- to three-year agreements might be better for local governments since they can quickly gather large amounts of information through apps.
“Data is just really coming in. You’re able to evaluate quicker,” he said. Within “two to three years, you’re able to say ‘this worked, this didn’t work.’”
Roux said the companies’ recommendations don’t sufficiently address many issues crucial to shared micromobility’s long-term success, such as safety, infrastructure and community engagement.
While the micromobility companies recommend that cities limit shared-micromobility vehicle speeds to 15 mph and encourage helmet use among riders, “safety needs to go beyond that,” he said.
Last week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published a study showing that speed limits for shared electric scooters may lead more people to ride them on sidewalks, putting riders in less danger from cars but increasing the risk of a crash with a pedestrian. The same study found that people are considerably more likely to ride on sidewalks when bike lanes aren’t available.
A Lime spokesperson, in an email last week, said the company “joined our industry partners in putting forward a recommended 15 mph speed limit to balance cities’ tendency to be apprehensive about higher speeds, with the need for a fast enough ride to encourage modal shift from cars.”
The spokesperson added that “we agree with IIHS’ findings that lower speeds can be a contributor to sidewalk riding,” however, “the lack of safe riding infrastructure on city streets” is a greater issue.
USF’s Zhang agreed, saying there are often larger speed differences between e-scooters and pedestrians than between e-scooters and cars, which can raise the likelihood of a crash when the scooters are on sidewalks.
Roux added that public-private partnerships among philanthropies, advocacy groups, transit agencies and shared micromobility operators have the potential to “fill in the infrastructure gaps.”
He also said that additional education and outreach, such as explicitly including shared micromobility in ongoing initiatives like NHTSA’s Share the Road campaign, could further improve safety. Cities and micromobility operators are responsible for providing that education because “you're introducing new technology, you're introducing an option,” Roux said.
But micromobility companies seldom provide education, Roux said. “Everyone really just does marketing.”
Sebastian Castellanos, the research lead for the New Urban Mobility alliance at the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, said in an interview that it’s important for cities to “be clear on” what they want shared micromobility to achieve rather than take a “reactive position,” as many local governments have in recent years.
The recommendations “are a good starting point,” he said. But “we can’t forget that all these companies, what they ultimately care about is money.”