Riffing on Transit Options: Thoughts on Lime and Bird Scooters/Bikes in Denver

The Basics

Background

Lime S Debute
Lime Scooter Debut at Mutiny Information Cafe on May 25th. Photo Courtesy of Kevin J Beaty of Denverite

On Friday May 25th, Lime Scooters initially landed in Denver just in time for Memorial Day weekend. About a week later, Denver’s Department of Public Works ordered both Lime and Bird to remove the scooters from the streets. About a month after the after the removal of the scooters, the city unveiled a pilot program allowing 5 scooter companies to operate up to 250 vehicles in their fleet, with an additional 100 allowed if confined to opportunity areas (PDF). Permits are valid for the one year duration of the pilot program, and can be adjusted based on performance and feedback.

Regulatory Structure

Permitting

As mentioned above, scooter companies will be allowed to operate 250 scooters in the Denver Metro area, with an additional 100 allowed in designated opportunity areas. With bicycles, fleets of 400 are allowed, with an additional 100 allowed in opportunity areas.

Below is a chart outlining the permitting fee schedules.

Permit Fee Denver
Information found here (PDF)

Rules of the Road

Regulations for riding the scooters include the following:

-Scooters are not allowed to be ridden in Denver Parks

-Scooters are not allowed in bike lanes

-Scooters should be dropped off at designated “transit stops” and parked upright in areas away from the right of way

-Scooters are not allowed on the 16th Street Mall

With bicycles, state and local law governing the use of bicycles apply in this case.

Deployment Schedule

Currently, both Lime and Bird have scooters on the road. 6 other companies, 3 operating scooters and 3 operating bikes expect to deploy their fleets over the next 5 months. Below is a table from Denverite of when the major operators are expected to deploy their fleets in the Metro Area.

Denverite Table Deployment Schedule
Table Courtesy of Ashley Dean, Denverite

Arguments

Below are some arguments for and against the dockless scooters and bike programs. These are by no means the full extent of arguments out there.

For

1. Scooters/Bikes Help Solve the First Mile/Last Mile problem in Transit

Most Americans that take public transit on a daily basis are comfortable with walking 1/4th of a mile to and from a bus stop or light rail station to get to their destination. However, often many Denverites are not within this range of transit stops which leads them to rely on cars to get to and from their destinations. With scooters available for individuals to use to get to and from transit stops, the likelihood of someone choosing transit over driving a single occupancy vehicle increases.

2. Scooters/Bikes can be integrated into the Mobility Action Plan

With an ambitious goal of reducing single occupant vehicle trips from 73% to 50% by 2030, scooters and bikes can be used as a way to reach the benchmarks of 15% biking/pedestrian trips and 15% transit trips.

Mobility Action Plan
Graphic With Mobility Action Plan Goals

3. Scooters/Bikes are a low cost alternative to services like Uber/Lyft, getting more cars off the road.

With both Lyft and Uber having minimums of $7 per ride, they often are an expensive option for those traveling relatively short distances within cities. Additionally, they help to reduce the amount of drunk drivers on the road if used in lieu of driving home after a night of drinking.

Against

1. Scooters/Bikes add congestion to already busy sidewalks

While riders are encouraged not to leave dockless vehicles in high density areas, it is inescapable at times when transit stops are in high density areas. This often makes them a nuisance for regular pedestrians to navigate around, including people with disabilities and others.

2. There is no guarantee dockless companies will remain in business

With ofo ceasing operations throughout North America in the next month or so, there is no insurance that dockless bike and scooter companies will exist without being consolidated, bought out, or going under. If the City of Denver invests in a dockless pilot program that ultimately results in one company having a monopoly over bikes and scooters, it isn’t one that is successful.

Ofo Bike Graveyard
Ofo Bike Graveyard in China

3. Scooters/Bikes negatively contribute to gentrification

With LA residents destroying electric scooters in creative ways and San Franciscans using scooters to block Google buses, it is a legitimate question as to how companies like Lime and Bird contribute negatively to gentrification. The biggest sticking point for residents is how tech has transformed both cities, including changing the culture, increasing the cost of living, and displacing longtime residents of cities throughout the United States. With the gap of scooters being available in high income vs. low income neighborhoods, Lime and Bird further increase inequality between neighborhoods.

My Opinion

I still haven’t ridden either Lime or Bird scooters yet, and refuse to at this point. My biggest concern is the speed of the scooters and legally not being able to use bike lanes. Going up to 15 mph, they would be incredibly dangerous to pilot in a pedestrian rich environment. Additionally, I worry about whether the additional 100 scooters each company is allowed will actually be placed in opportunity areas, or will end up strewn around more affluent parts of the city. My skepticism of Silicon Valley, where most of these companies have started, in trying to solve urban problems is also a major factor in my skepticism of the dockless sharing programs. Regardless, the scooters are here to stay, and hopefully my concerns are addressed.

One thought on “Riffing on Transit Options: Thoughts on Lime and Bird Scooters/Bikes in Denver

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