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What should Seattle’s scooter rollout look like? + Public forum Wednesday

Photo of a Spin scooter in front of Denver's Union Station.
One of so many scooters around Denver’s downtown Union Station.

Seattle got out in front of most other U.S. cities when it encouraged private bike share companies to launch their services in summer 2017. The city’s experiment in dockless bike share has been wildly influential on how other cities have embraced so-called “micromobility” services like bike and scooter share. Seattle’s initial permit framework sort of became the template for crafting a framework elsewhere.

And bike share boomed in use in Seattle, even if the profitability of the endeavor is still rather uncertain. Bike share has helped propel biking to record levels across the city, and perhaps has even inspired people to go out and get their own bikes. As we reported previously, bike counts on the Fremont Bridge have continued climbing sharply even as the number of bike share trips plateaued likely due to a reduction in bike fleet size and increase in price.

But while other cities experimented with electric scooter share services, Mayor Jenny Durkan has resisted following suit. So the city is in an odd position as a leader on private bike share, but a hold-out on scooter share. That may all change soon, though, as the city is currently conducting public outreach ahead of a scooter share pilot program set to launch in spring next year.

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The city is hosting a public forum on scooter share 6–8 p.m. today (Wednesday) in the Bertha Knight Landes Room in City Hall. You can also provide feedback via this extremely short online survey.

Below are some of the city’s goals with this program, from an SDOT Blog post:

  • establishing rules for scooter share vendors and users
  • providing a low-carbon mobility option in our effort to reduce carbon emissions
  • encouraging safety, in line with our Vision Zero initiative
  • ensuring our sidewalks serve blind and low-vision people and other people living with disabilities
  • improving connections to transit for all, including for people with disabilities
  • ensuring affordable and equitable service, particularly for communities of color
  • supporting an active, healthy, people-first use of Seattle’s streets

As we have seen with bike share, accessibility is a concern as the city adds more free-floating devices to our sidewalks. Bike parking with expanded space for free-floating bikes and scooters is the obvious best solution, but Seattle has so much work left to do before such parking is readily available enough to prevent walkway-impeding parking jobs. So companies need to find ways to better encourage appropriate parking. I noticed that Lime has started requiring users to take a photo of their parked bike after ending a trip, which is a good idea especially if they follow-up with users to educate them about the rules (and maybe even add fees if necessary).

Map showing how far someone can get from a point on Beacon Hill using transit with and without scooter share.
From a report by the Micromobility Coalition, an industry group founded by Uber and Jump (PDF).

But there is a lot of potential for scooters to build on recent bike successes in town and dramatically increase people’s ability to get around town without driving. The Micromobility Coalition, an organization founded by Uber and Jump to promote shared bikes and scooters, recently put out a report that tries to illustrate how scooters expand the number of jobs accessible to Seattle residents.

Other cities have found that many people who were never interested in riding a bike are willing to try scooters. I don’t personally get it (I feel much more comfortable on a bike), but it’s clearly true. On a recent trip to Denver, the number of people zipping around downtown on scooters was unbelievable and far beyond bike share use (Denver has docked bike share, dockless bike share and scooter share). I know this will be true for many parts of Seattle, too, though Seattle has some terrain challenges that Denver does not have. I’m very interested to see how scooter users handle steep downtown streets, for example.

We need all the tools we can get to help more people get around without cars, and that includes scooters. That’s also why I would be very sad if companies get rid of bike share when scooters launch, but that has been the trend in other markets. Seattle really stands out as the biggest market for private dockless bike share in the U.S., and I hope that continues in parallel with scooters and whatever comes next.

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11 responses to “What should Seattle’s scooter rollout look like? + Public forum Wednesday”

  1. bill

    Why can’t we learn from other cities and just not have these things? Injuries, deaths, frustrated mobility-impaired folks, scared pedestrians, pissed-off business and property owners – for example: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/04/technology/san-diego-electric-scooters.html

    And in Seattle we add steep hills, bad road and sidewalk surfaces, trolley tracks, wintertime commuting in the dark, and rain.

  2. Brad

    Having recently returned from a long weekend in San Diego where there are at least 2 floating scooter services, I have moved from “why not” to “hell no” on the scooter issue. The commenter above is right on – ‘scared pedestrians’ – folks on scooters on the sidewalk (every rental scooter carriers a big NO RIDING ON SIDEWALK sticker), at the peak of the workday sidewalk crush. And then there were the strings of folks, later in the evening, scootering from one bar to the next, on/off the sidewalk, in/out of traffic, against the flow, wrong way on one way streets. Think Pioneer Square or Belltown at 2 am when the bars empty to a fleet of cool looking scooters just asking to be taken for a ride.

  3. Ballard Biker

    So pedestrians and cyclists should give up their hard fought safe infrastructure so a handful of entitled, lazy techbros don’t have to walk four blocks? Yeah, no thanks.

    I used to think there were two type of people that supported electric scooters:

    1. Someone who has never been to Portland, SF, San Jose, San Diego, Madrid’s Retiro, basically any place that legalized scooters and has turned into a wasteland of morons on two wheels.
    2. Someone who is invested in Spin, Uber, Jump, Lime, Bird, etc.

    However, in the past year, a bunch of entitled idiots have taken it upon themselves to purchase and use electric scooters on sidewalks, bike lanes and multi-use paths. And they’ve shown us that the horrible experiences for non-scooter users has already translated to Seattle.

    So type 1 is moot, because all one has to do to see how terrible legalizing e-scooters will be is go outside. And now a handful of people want to increase this by orders of magnitude. It’s clear that type 2 supporters are the ones driving this, as shown by such astroturfing movements like The Micromobility Coalition, an organization founded by Uber and Jump to promote shared bikes and scooters, recently put out a report that tries to illustrate how scooters expand the number of jobs accessible to Seattle residents.

    Dockless bike share is working well and will likely be displaced by escooters, why ruin a good thing?

  4. asdf2

    There are too many destinations where it is physically impossible to reach safely on a scooter without riding on the sidewalk for at least a short distance. For instance, I don’t know how one is supposed to cross the ship canal, or visit any business along an arterial, without riding on the sidewalk.

    Are police going to be out there at the Fremont bridge, writing tickets to every scooter rider that goes across?

  5. Jean

    I used to be ambivalent about e-scooters. Then I spent a month in downtown Denver and am now strongly opposed to them. It is chaotic and and scooter drivers are all over the place. I saw one rider being ticketed and my friend was bumped, not hard enough to be hurt, by a scooter driver.

  6. Jay

    “The notion that electric vehicles, or vehicles of any other kind, will be able to compete with railroad trains for long-distance traffic is visionary to the point of lunacy.” circa 1899

    The same can be true of e-scooters vs ICE vehicles for short trips, i.e. <1 mile.

  7. Donde Groovily

    Looking at the comments, it’s quite amazing how few Seattlites have bothered to make the short trip to Tacoma to see scooters in action. Tacoma allows both, and the private companies there found that people overwhelmingly prefer scooters and don’t even bother with bikes at all. They are very popular, surprisingly popular in night life districts at late night hours with no bus service, suggesting that it’s taking taxis off the road.

    When it comes to disrupting pedestrian safety, a scooter is way better than a car.

    1. bill

      I took a long trip to Honolulu a few years ago during the few months before share scooters were banned there. I got plenty familiar with being terrorized by them. Not looking forward to the experience coming to Seattle.

  8. Jay

    Anyone who claims that the terrain and climate in Seattle will not work for scooters just has to look to SF where it has more hills, rains heavier and is more dense – and succeeds.

  9. Jay

    Detailed report from the first scooter city.


    “Nearly half (49%) of shared mobility trips replaced trips that would have otherwise been made by car, either driving alone or ride-hailing using Lyft or Uber. 39% of trips replaced walking trips—in some
    cases serving as a walking accelerator for those commuting to work or to running errands, and in other cases serving tourism or recreational purposes.”

  10. […] (or if) Seattle launches its scooter share pilot in early 2020 as planned, users of the shared scooters will not be allowed to ride on the sidewalk […]

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