By next summer, electric scooters are primed to join Seattle’s growing fleet of privately-provided mobility options.
The Seattle Department of Transportation has announced the start of a year-long rollout process that includes three phases of outreach, City Hall wrangling over rules and permitting, and, then, eventually rollout in mid-2020.
“(A)t 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,” the SDOT announcement reads.
Before implementation, City Hall must address issues that have emerged with other scooter shares including rider safety and sidewalk safety issues.
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“We intend to co-create a scooter share pilot that offers new mobility options while maintaining sidewalk comfort & the safety of pedestrians, people who are blind or low-vision, & people living with disabilities,” the SDOT announcement reads.
Advocates say there also should be concerns about how the companies behind the shares — many of them also in the car and bike share business — manage the mix of options available. Scooters, for example, are easier and cheaper for the companies to deploy but encourage shorter, higher cost per minute trips from customers.
Last summer, Seattle rolled out a plan for expanding its bike share permitting in the city that included new safety restrictions and requirements about how the share bikes should be parked when not in use.
Like the privately run bike share fleet, Seattle’s scooter fleet will likely be dockless. The typical service like Bird or Lime charges an unlocking fee — $1 — and then a per minute fee of around 15 to 25 cents. The companies have been experimenting with pricing and promotions in cities around the country. Analysis has shown the industry is currently burning through hardware with the typical scooter lasting around a month before it needs to be replaced. Most companies in the industry are losing money on every ride as they play the long game of winning market share. The industry also brings local opportunities. Packs of “juicers” roam cities looking to pick up scooters running on empty to receive a small fee for recharging them.
The scooters can reach speeds of around 15 MPH and, fully charged, could carry a rider around 20 miles. Analysts say the average length of a trip is around 1.5 miles.
There are some big questions to answer regarding how scooters will fit in Seattle.
“We’re exploring whether scooter riding should be allowed on sidewalks, in bike lanes, or general travel lanes,” SDOT’s announcement reads. “We know that enforcement disproportionately impacts communities of color, so we want to find a solution that works for all Seattleites.”
The city’s first phase of outreach will begin with “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.”
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