Are Dockless Electric Scooters the Future?

By John Collier, GOPC Manager of Research

The debut of “dockless” scooters is the latest fad to hit our cities. Seemingly overnight, several cities across Ohio began to see Lime and Bird scooters popping up on corners throughout the city. The concept is simple, using a mobile app, the scooters can be remotely unlocked for $1 and cost an additional $0.15/minute for the ride.

The companies deploying these scooters claim their goal is to reduce traffic and congestion in cities while filling in the small transit gaps (i.e. the trip from the bus stop to your apartment). A noble goal, and one that does seek to address a real issue in American cities.

Transit gaps, often called the “first mile/last mile” illustrate the difficulty transportation systems have getting people from a transportation hub to their final destination. These gaps are often exacerbated by the layout of many American cities, where due to sprawl, users must walk a considerable distance to link up to the nearest existing transit system, making transit use less practical. When transit use is less practical, people rely more on cars which subsequently results in congestion, pollution, and urban sprawl.

Dockless electric scooters may solve this last mile issue for some, but not all. The scooter solution leaves a lot of populations out, including the elderly, disabled, and children. Essentially, it has potential to be a first/mile solution for young able-bodied individuals who happen to live in the locations where the scooters and bikes are deployed.

But just because the scooters fail to solve all of the complex issues that face our transit systems does not mean communities should outright ban them. With proper regulation, this fad could begin important conversations on how we design our roads and sidewalks. If scooter use continues and increases, cities may more quickly adopt “complete streets” policies that encourage road design that is safe for all modes of transportation (driving, biking, and scootering). Additionally, if scooters do make public transit more feasible for some, then perhaps communities will consider increasing funding for transit that would benefit all users.

 A group of tactical urbanists installed "Bird Cages" last week in public spaces around downtown Cincinnati in order to spur some creative thinking about how cities can adapt to the dockless scooters fad instead of outright ban them. (photo via  Yard & Company )

A group of tactical urbanists installed "Bird Cages" last week in public spaces around downtown Cincinnati in order to spur some creative thinking about how cities can adapt to the dockless scooters fad instead of outright ban them. (photo via Yard & Company)

At the end of the day, the scooters are spurring important conversations about our transportation systems and will be one part of many in a more multi-modal transportation system at the local level and across the state. The fact remains that Ohio’s communities (both urban and rural) still need proper support for their transit systems that connect Ohio’s workers to job centers.

For more information on what GOPC is doing in regards to transportation innovation, click here.