How E-Scooters Can Complement Public Transit

With some strategic planning on the part of transit agencies and operators, shared e-scooters can be an important ally in the fight against car dependence.

April 8, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Multi-Modalism

E-scooters and bicycles parked at the entrance of a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Oakland, California. | DJSinop / Shutterstock

E-scooters have the potential for an important role in a comprehensive public transit system, writes Xiang ‘Jacob’ Yan in Greater Greater Washington. Despite their reputation as mostly recreational, "research suggests that most e-scooter trips are not taken for fun but for utilitarian purposes such as work and school commuting. In the past year, for those avoiding crowded spaces like buses and trains because of COVID-19, e-scooters can be a lifeline for people with few other travel options." Washington, D.C., according to Yan, "has been a pioneer in embracing e-scooters and e-bikes and developing regulations to make them a safe, accessible, and equitable travel option."

"There are good reasons to worry that privately operated e-scooters — much like ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft — could draw riders away from transit and hence threaten the recovery of public transit systems." Indeed, Yan's research shows that "more than 90% of e-scooter trips could have been made by Metro or CaBi." However, in many instances, "[e-scooter] usage was different from the Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) system — the services were complementary, not competitive." Prior to the pandemic, "between 8% and 12% of all e-scooter trips were taken to connect with Metrorail."

Yan argues that "the popularity of e-scooters and e-bikes suggests that cities like DC should be treating dockless vehicles as an essential component of public transportation systems" and "find ways to make e-scooters complement rather than compete with existing public transportation systems." Through some collaborative planning with the e-scooter operators, DDOT can foster a "harmonious integration of e-scooter services with Capital Bikeshare and Metro." Transit agencies can "promote e-scooters as a last-mile feeder to public transit" by creating safe and convenient infrastructure such as e-scooter parking and charging stations at transit hubs, bike and scooter lanes to make riding safer, and integrated fare payments or bundled pricing. To achieve these advancements, writes Yan, transportation officials must "think of e-scooters not as a separate mode but as a part of the transportation ecosystem," bringing the industry in as "an important ally in the war against car dependence."

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