Rethinking cities #5: Madeleine scoots round town and learns that God is in the details!

The age of scooter sharing is upon us.  Ever since cities like Paris started with its vélib scheme, scooters, bikes, and mopeds have been taking over cities around the world.  In Paris itself, there is a strong love for vélos and the government’s scheme is now not the only choice, with several new dockless options like Ofo, Lime, oBike, Mobike, Donkey Republic, amongst others (Gobee has disappeared due to vandalism).

While offering new and convenient alternatives to commuters and travelers especially as a “last mile” solution, some of those schemes are now running into trouble, with questions about the quality of the vehicles, the many of instances of them being vandalized or creating blockages in busy intersections.

We are all playing catch-up on things like these scooters whizzing past us as we walk and from many directions and fearing the various kinds of accidents that could create!

That aside, it is also sometimes challenging to finding a useable scooter when we need them – and next-gen GPS will help here – but it would be really good to know which vehicles are undamaged and not out-of-charge.

A plethora of new rules and regulations have emerged (in some cases are proliferating) that attempt to manage the chaos, however, scooter rules now vary widely by city, and even by company!  In some cities, you would be able to “scoot” to the art museum or football stadium, but not others.  In some places, you can park a Lyft scooter at the pro hockey or baseball stadiums, but not pro football.  To park at pro football, you’ll need to be on a Bird or Lime scooter.  The restrictions are made by the companies, with input from governments and communities. Companies are quick to restrict sensitive or crowded areas, such as federal government buildings and large event spaces. Cities vary in their requests.  Bolt, a scooter company, said Portland, Oregon, gave it a list of 400 areas to restrict.

All we can say is …. that:

God is in the details!”

Or, to paraphrase that, going green in cities requires some people getting some details right!

Scooter companies enforce riding restrictions via GPS.  If you go outside the bounds, your scooter may slow down and not allow you to end your ride.  These restrictions impact businesses, sports stadiums, museums, even transit stops.

These rules and regulations are creating a complex maze as well as spurring a deep groundswell of controversies:

– Some companies, e.g. Scoot, a San Francisco-based subsidiary of Bird, restricts parking in Chinatown and the Tenderloin, a neighborhood with a significant homeless population, citing narrow sidewalks and concerns raised by the local community groups.  But other local communities are against a ban as it restricts “access” and can be seen as a social equity issue.

– Just because there are restrictions, doesn’t mean they’re actually enforced. Bird’s app warns riders when they’re in a no parking zone, and urges them to move out of it.  But a rider can override the suggestion and still end the trip.

– Implementation of these restrictions is limited by GPS accuracy, which tall buildings can distort.  And if a scooter is moving at 15mph into a no-ride zone, the scooter may not realize and slow down until a rider is deep into a restricted area.

Perhaps these are “teething problems”.  Imagine what it was like when cars were first introduced into cities when horse-drawn carriages were the dominant means of transport?

We hope so and think that rules will simply need to be tested in the real-world, refined, revised, and perfected.