Paul's Note - November 22, 2019

Our six-month “pilot program” with e-scooters began in September, and there is already a move to end it early.

Count me among those who’d like the program to continue.

We don’t see e-scooters much on the road here in Ward 2. The layout of our neighborhoods and the lack of clear pedestrian centers means that they aren’t as practical as they are in central Tucson.

They don’t get used in Ward 2, so I’ll tell you what they are: they are electrically powered scooters. The two companies that are operating here in Tucson, Bird and Razor, have slightly different designs but the idea is the same. You want to ride a scooter for a few blocks? Get out your phone and an app will tell you where the closest scooter is and will take care of charging you for the ride.

When you are done with the ride, you just leave it somewhere and someone else will come along and ride it.

There have been problems with e-scooters in other communities, and we knew that when we started the pilot program. In many communities, there were no regulations and companies would put hundreds or even thousands of scooters in crowded downtowns, leaving cities scrambling to deal with the fallout. We did something a bit different. They were illegal here, which gave us the time to write some rules before the companies showed up.

We put out a request for proposal that had over fifty rules that a company would have to follow for them to be allowed to operate here. Also, we limited the number of companies to two for a maximum of 1000 scooters city wide.

One company that caused headaches for city officials in Tempe and San Diego did not bother to apply.

Both companies have been keeping track of complaints. Razor has had 144 since the program started (that’s with 54,040 rides being taken). Most of these have involved scooters being left in places that block sidewalks or otherwise cause problems for pedestrians. They report that they have been able to respond and resolve most of these issues within an hour.

The thing to keep in mind about this is that if a person is riding a scooter, they aren’t taking a car. Although many of these rides are short, there are a surprising number that are longer. Assuming that a 12 minute ride on a scooter would normally be done by car, Razor estimates that they have replaced 830 car rides per day.

That means that since the program has started, they have eliminated 45 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of 17,000 new trees.

By the way, that’s just Razor. I don’t have numbers for Bird, but you can probably double that.

Both Bird and Razor had to pay a license fee along with the application fee when we originally looked for companies to bid on the pilot program. All told, that was $35,000 for the city. In addition, In addition, there is a 20 cent fee the city collects per ride. Bird and Razor report 101,130 rides between them, so that's $20,226 in city coffers.

We haven’t had the safety issues that they have reported in other cities. Of course, irresponsible people on scooters can injure themselves or others. The same could be said, by the way, of cars.

Still, there are some things that I’d like to see to encourage safety. We require helmets, but it is difficult to enforce. There are scooter operations in Europe which have found a solution to this: a helmet on a retractable cable. The scooter can’t be operated unless to detach and wear the helmet.

I’d like to see a system where tickets can be written to riders by police or CSOs and have a fine charged to the rider’s Razor or Bird account. You charge someone an extra $50 for a ride, and you’ll see behavior change.

Every new or alternative transportation option gets pooh-poohed on the basis of either safety or convenience, the later particularly when it comes to the convenience of drivers. Kylie Walzak from the Living Streets Alliance, who advocates for a diversity of transportation options, wrote about this in the Arizona Daily Star. The car is so engrained in our culture and daily life that we assume it’s the only form that needs to be thought about. While out here in Ward 2, it’s the preference, there are plenty of spaces in our community where we can encourage other methods. If it gets more polluting cars off the road, I’m for it.