Seattle starts planning for shared scooters. Like, for real this time.

Planned timeline for Seattle's scooter share rollout. Details noted here are included in the story text.Scooters are coming to Seattle next year probably maybe.

Work to create the framework for the scooter share pilot project starts now, along with environmental review (of course). SDOT plans to finalize the permit details in the fall and winter, then launch the system in winter or spring.

Scooters have proven to be very popular in cities where they have launched, typically attracting significantly more ride per day than bike share. As we reported previously, Seattle is fairly unique as a city with a large dockless bike share system, but no scooters. In many other cities, companies have been either shifting focus to scooters or have dropped bikes entirely.

Seattle’s scooter permits will be entirely separate from the city’s bike permits, though many relevant details will likely be copied from the extensive bike permit.

It’s not yet clear what a scooter share pilot would mean for bike share. It’s potentially good news that companies offering both devices will not be forced to choose either bikes or scooters because scooters typically generate more revenue than bikes. But it will obviously be up to the companies whether and to what extent they continue offering bikes.

As a much newer technology, there are also lots of questions about how scooters will fit into Seattle. How will their motors handle our steeper hills? What about their brakes on the way down? What sort of technical requirements should the city include to ensure the devices are safe?

Unlike bikes, which have a very long history of use and studies in urban environments, electric scooters are relatively novel. And the designs of the devices has massively advanced in recent years. Data about scooter safety is still fairly new and incomplete, though the massive spread of the devices in cities across the nation is starting to generate some useful information. Some safety issues are shared, like the need for protected bike lanes. But some safety issues are different.

For example, unlike with bikes, a huge percentage of scooter injuries are solo crashes by new users. A recent Austin Public Health Department study found that of the 190 injury-causing crashes they found (not a huge sample size), about 16% involved a motor vehicle. About half of injuries involved users’ heads, and the vast majority included upper body injuries like wrists, arms and shoulders.

Graph showing that about 33% or injuries happened on a rider's first ride. About 30 injuries happened to people who had taken between one and nine rides previously. Crash rates decline sharply after ten rides.

From Austin Public Health’s Dockless Electric Scooter-Related Injuries Study (PDF).

The most instructive finding in the Austin study may be that a surprising 33% of injured riders were on their first ever ride. I am not aware of a similar study for bike share, so it’s hard to know for sure how the two modes compare (if you know of such a study, please let us know in the comments below). First ride crashes seems like an addressable problem, though, which is why Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has suggested that the city’s scooter permit should require users to “pass an educational course (such as an in-app training) that helps people understand how to be safe while scooting and how to keep others safe.”

Scooter wheels are smaller, making them inherently more vulnerable to cracks and potholes in the road compared to a bike. It is also much easier to topple forward on a scooter than on a bike. Understanding how to shift your weight in order to feel more secure when turning and braking a scooter takes practice, so it’s not hard to imagine why injuries are so much more common when a rider is first trying one. If you slam on the brakes or try going up a curb while leaning forward, you can easily topple forward.

People who bike often feel much less stable on a scooter (that’s certainly been my personal experience), but scooters seem to appeal to a lot more people than bikes do. In the end, people getting around town or connecting to transit without a car is a good thing, and it’s worth exploring how Seattle can offer these popular services as safely and effectively as possible.

More details from SDOT:

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is announcing the start of a robust public engagement process to help shape Seattle’s scooter share pilot program, planned for launch in 2020. Over the past few months, we’ve been busy laying the groundwork for a successful scooter pilot. We’re kicking off the first phase: a focused outreach and engagement effort where we work with stakeholder groups to help shape the goals, scope, and scale of scooter share in Seattle.  See the attached graphic for phases and timeline details.

“We will work with stakeholders like our transit, pedestrian and bike oversight boards, disability rights groups, local businesses and transit partners to develop the framework of a scooter pilot for Seattle” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “We will continue to listen and learn from other cities. We also want to hear from our neighborhoods.”

At Mayor Durkan’s direction, we plan to draw lessons from other cities’ micro-mobility (a term for new, small, and electric transportation modes) programs and hear from community stakeholders before allowing scooter share in the City.

There are benefits to scooters in Seattle, particularly given their potential to replace driving trips. But we also know those opportunities may not be equitably distributed, and there may be unintended consequences for specific communities. We know that enforcement disproportionately impacts communities of color, so we want to find a solution that works for all Seattleites. We intend to co-create a scooter share pilot that offers new mobility options while maintaining sidewalk comfort and the safety of pedestrians, people who are blind or low-vision, and people living with disabilities. 

Our planned outreach effort includes conversations with the Pedestrian Advisory Board, Transit Advisory Board, and Bike Advisory Board, as well as organizations focused on disability rights and transportation equity, Center City community groups, neighborhood groups, and community groups representing a high proportion of people of color.

This first phase of outreach is expected to last a couple of months, and we’ll share what we’ve learned at that time.

We’ve studied other cities around the U.S. and their approaches to scooter share – from Portland to Los Angeles to Nashville and reviewed best practices and lessons learned. We’ve also surveyed the scooter industry, talked to scooter companies big and small, and learned about the different approaches vendors are taking to offer a safe and responsible mobility option.

We’ll continue accepting input while performing an environmental review and would draft any legislation needed before accepting permit applications and launching the pilot. We’ll also continue to learn from the successes and challenges of scooter share in other cities, and how communities are ensuring their scooter share programs provide an equitable and safe mobility option for their city. These steps will lead to a community-driven pilot scooter share program that works well for Seattle.

If you have any further questions or comments, please visit our website at http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/new-mobility-program/scooter-share or email us at scootershare@seattle.gov.

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6 Responses to Seattle starts planning for shared scooters. Like, for real this time.

  1. Breadbaker says:

    Essentially no one rides a bike share bike as the first bike ride of their life. Why should we be contemplating “in app” training for riding a scooter, rather than requiring that they be actually taken out on the road like cyclists do naturally and drivers are required to do?

    I say this as someone who has almost been crashed into on the sidewalks of Austin by scooters.

    • asdf2 says:

      Agree, in-app training is more about making us feel good than actually preventing crashes. Ultimately, there is no substitute for starting out slow, avoiding hills, and using common sense.

      My biggest safety concern here, is people bombing down hills too fast and getting out of control. Especially downtown, where there are some very steep hills with traffic lights and the bottom and people have to capable of stopping when the light is red.

      One idea could be to whitelist the pilot to designated routes which are known to be flat, and require the scooters to simply shut off the motor when GPS detects that they are outside of a designated route. Despite Seattle’s hilly reputation, there are still plenty of flat areas that could be part of the pilot. Some examples that come to my mind include 2nd Ave. through Belltown, SLU (excluding Westlake Ave. because of the streetcar tracks), Westlake trail, Burke-Gilman trail, Ship Canal Trail, and Alki trail.

      Unfortunately, I don’t see any safe way to include the Rainier Valley in a scooter pilot, except for, perhaps, Lake Washington Blvd. Rainier is certainly flat enough, but there’s too many cars, and it’s just too dangerous.

      To avoid taking away mobility options for those outside the whitelisted routes, the city could require the exiting e-bike fleet to remain operational during the pilot.

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  3. Steven Lorenza says:

    This will be the end of bikeshare in Seattle. But since they’ve gone full $$ fireball ebikes, I just always bring my own bike anyway.

    Tons of these scooters are already in use by private owners I’ve noticed this summer. I’m no Lance Armstrong but they go slower up hills than me on my old pedal bike. Tech bro stereotype amongst riders is pretty obvious as well, for better or worse.

  4. eddiew says:

    as with dockless bikes and cars, the parking of the scooters is a key issue. the regulation of the parking by the vendor, SDOT, and the users is complex. Vandals or tricksters can move them. we do not want scooters blocking pedestrians, transit access, ramps, or cyclists. some streets have parallel parking; that space might be used for dockless devises. but some arterials do not have parallel parking; they tend to be the most important. I will not be a scooter user; they look too dangerous; I will stick with my bike and feet.

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