Lime-S Scooters

On Wednesday, the Seattle Transportation & Utilities Committee approved two ordinances (starts at 1:54:14) related to e-scooter operations. The full council will vote on September 8th.

The bills are CB 119867 and 119868. Slides for both are here. They both passed, with Gonzalez, Morales, and Strauss voting yes and Pedersen no.

The former would allow motorized scooters in streets with speed limits of 25 mph or lower, bike lanes, and on sidewalks that are part of a bike route (e.g. on movable bridges). The latter actually authorizes scooter rental operations and sets up a fee schedule that the city projects will raise about $1m annually ($150/device), used to administer the program and build more bike and scooter parking. The permitting plan is here, but is an administrative document that didn’t need Council approval.

The speed limit for scooters would be 15mph. At both launch (500 ea) and maximum permitted capacity (2,000 ea), there would be equal numbers of bikes, seated scooters, and the standing scooters we see in other cities.

As one might expect, there’s an equity component. There will be a less-than-$1.50/ride low income option, “low barrier” plans for the smartphone-less and underbanked, and 10% of the fleet will be in “Environmental Justice Community Areas” (show at right).

The City will, in theory, fine riders that do not park their scooters properly. Lisa Herbold rightly pointed out that levying fines doesn’t fit with the overall direction of the City with respect to law enforcement.

Bill sponsor Dan Strauss supported moving forward because the City is “circling around the same questions that can only be answered if we try it,” adding that “If at the end of the pilot we find the city of Seattle is not suitable… we end the pilot.”

This is correct, and scooters are complimentary to other tools that provide good alternatives to cars. But I can’t help but wonder if these rules are simply too prescriptive. No one knows if scooter share is going to be a viable business in Seattle, and these regulations reduce the ability of Lime and other operators to adjust to what works. In particular, unfunded equity requirements are best levied on established, profitable businesses — not rickety startups. But with luck, Lime et al will weather that and scooters will be around for a long time to come.

24 Replies to “Council committee approves e-scooter pilot”

  1. On matters like general safety and respect for non-scooter-riders’ rights…what’s the record been so far? And am I wrong that for health reasons, it’s inadvisable to let too many batteries fall or get thrown into lakes, streams, ponds, and lawns?

    Lisa’s got one good point about the general direction of law-enforcement at this writing: it’s a 360 degree scatter away from Additional Nuisance One.

    Mark Dublin

  2. I think there needs to be a better explanation or analysis of what an “Environmental Justice Community Area” is. It’s pretty odd to see this on a map, where areas like Seward Park are in one but not nearby Columbia City or Hillsman City, or the ID or many parts of the CD.

    It could be a matter of small geography boundaries and use of certain measures, but it certainly seems a bit off.

    1. Most of it tracks the lower-income areas pretty accurately. It has southern Rainier Valley, Georgetown, South Park, Delridge 35th Ave SW, the CD, Lake City, Bitter Lake, and Broadview. The only parts I’d question are Seward Park as you said, and the part between Northgate and Green Lake. Columbia City has the most complete neighborhood center and highest prices in the valley, so it has probably driven away so many lower-income people that it no longer shows up in the statistics. Seward Park is so narrow it probably doesn’t have a separate statistic area.

  3. “ No one knows if scooter share is going to be a viable business in Seattle, and these regulations reduce the ability of Lime and other operators to adjust to what works. In particular, unfunded equity requirements are best levied on established, profitable businesses — not rickety startups. But with luck, Lime et al will weather that and scooters will be around for a long time to come.”

    Well as Strauss said, that’s the point of a pilot. If Lime is unable to be profitable with these very simple and reasonable requirements then they have no business junking up the city with their trash.

    1. I don’t know why we should hold Lime to a standard of profitability that few other transport options meet.

      1. I don’t know why Lime should be allowed to dump their scooters all over the city without at least providing some form of equitable public service as a trade off.

  4. Bets on how long until one of them crashes into someone on a sidewalk the scooter isn’t supposed to be on?

    1. +10
      Day 2?
      I hate these things. I’ve had multiple close calls with scooter riders on sidewalks and beach promenades in the San Diego area. I’ve seen them blocking sidewalks and building entrances numerous times on my visits down there. I’ve seen a number of people just pick them up and toss them in the street when they’ve tripped over them or found them blocking a store/restaurant entrance. But I guess the folks on Seattle’s City Council think that users here will be much more inclined to follow the rules. Yeah, right.

      Oh, and of course these “last-mile delivery vehicles” will be so pleasant to use around Seattle once our wet season begins in October and our daylight window is shrunk as we head toward the winter solstice.

      Ughhh.

      1. I was actually going to give it until around November, yes – first week after the DST fall back. It will be particularly bad in areas where sidewalks are narrow and there are large populations of wheelchair users or blind people – that is my main concern, more than anything else.

      2. I thought we were done with “Fall Back”? DST for ever.

        Is there an example of an urban area like Seattle where eScooters have been successful?

      3. I’ve seen people going down Pine Street on various two-wheeled and one-wheeled contraptions, weaving through pedestrians at a speed I found concerning. That’s my biggest doubt about scootershare. Although all the recent ones have been responsible, slowing down to pedestrian speed when they’re around pedestrians. So maybe the riders have gotten more responsible. But a large increase in riders who may be less responsible would be a problem. All the ones I’ve seen in central Seattle are the stand-up kind without handlebars. I wonder if people might ride faster on the handlebar ones since they’re bigger and there’s less of a risk of falling off it with nothing to hold on to.

      4. @Bernie: my understanding is that all the West coast states (and BC) are okay with staying on DST forever and have codified this into state-level statutes. However, federal law requires Congress intervention to allow a state to remain in DST year-round (staying in “regular” time year-round does not) Your bet as to how likely this is to take place in the middle of a pandemic in an election year is as good as mine, I am sure.

        FWIW, Marco Rubio (R-FL) was planning to sponsor legislation related to this issue (and aligned with what the West coast states are attempting), but I do not believe it went anywhere so far.

      5. That Lime model in the two closeups looks flimsier than other e-scooters I’ve seen. I wouldn’t want to ride fast on it since it looks like it would tip over on a bump. The scooters I usually see have larger wheels and lights and presumably a gyroscope. These look like a small-sized push scooter.

      6. My bet is the federal legislation to remain on DST gets written in as an obscure amendment in exchange for requisite pork. Since the whole left coast approved it the only big objection, schedules and by that mainly television schedules is no big deal. For most of the populous of California it won’t make much difference since their daylight hours don’t change much with the seasons and CA has a huge congressional delegation.

      7. @Bernie In a regular year, I would agree that it’s at least possible. This year, I can’t imagine much will get passed other than another stimulus bill if they can agree on the terms, and I find it unlikely that they will add more stuff to it than absolutely necessary since it will be so complicated. But I would be happy to be proven wrong. I guess we’ll find out in a couple of months, one way or another :)

  5. Since the last scooter I rode was red and white just like my “coaster” wagon, which should pretty well “date” them, and me:

    1. Could anybody “weigh in” who’s used these scooters and likes them?

    2. Is there any reason why helmet laws shouldn’t apply to their users?

    3. How should the law read in the event of a collision with a pedestrian or another scooter-user?

    4. These look like they should be under jurisdiction of bicycle police. If they’re empowered to issue tickets for bad bike-riding, why not same for scooters?

    5. For the scooter-littering problem, can special patrols roam the city collecting throwaways and making the scooter-companies pay to get them back? Which would definitely “incentivize” them to do the job themselves.

    6. I recall that Sea-Tac Airport luggage-cart racks themselves would give you change for returning a stray cart. Can city do same for scooters?

    7. Permission to “scoot” where people are walking at all, absolutely not. But in those places, scooters are a lot easier to dismount and “walk” than bikes, aren’t they?

    8. Like with driverless taxicabs and transit vehicles, I don’t like the habit of a business plan being an immediate grant of permission. Demonstration project shouldn’t be hard or pricey, should it?

    Mark Dublin

  6. I haven’t ridden any of the Lime scooters, outside of a demo session where I rode all of about 10 feet. But, I did get a chance to ride a Bird scooter once, down in San Jose, California.

    The nominal speed limit may have been 15 mph, but anything above 10 mph felt very unstable. This is, in large part due to high center of gravity, which is an inherent limitation of riding a scooter instead of a bike. Fortunately, San Jose is very flat, but the trail I was riding did feature a few underpasses. The slightest downhill felt especially unstable, and I couldn’t imagine trying to ride one of those things down Columbia St., downtown.

    When all was said and done, my 10-mile ride from San Jose to my company’s office took about one hour and costed only marginally less than riding the same trip in an Uber car. This being in spite of the fact that the scooter rates at the time were around $0.15/min, less than half of what they cost today. Today, Uber’s scooters are actually more expensive than Uber’s cars, for all but the shortest trips (but, if a trip is that short, you don’t need a scooter to begin with – you can just walk, so what’s the point?).

    Yes, the low-income discount is nice, but it still doesn’t change the fact that if it’s that expensive for everyone else, it’s not going to get much usage, and it won’t help in accomplishing it’s ultimate goal, from the city’s perspective, and that’s getting cars off the road.

    At best, it will get some people riding around in circles because they’re curious, who, when they see the bill will end up not riding it again. A sustainable business model, depending on such riders is most definitely not.

    Back at the beginning of Lime, when the service was cheap, I was excited about the bike service, and rode it a lot. With each subsequent price increase, I rode it less and less. When the rates hit $0.25/min., I rode it just once in multiple months, and when it hit $0.36/min., I stopped riding it completely. And, I have always resented how Lime has nickle-and-dimed people by making you pay the unlock fee twice when the first bike has a problem you don’t notice until you start pedaling, and end up having to switch to another one. (Theoretically, you can complain to customer service and get your dollar back, but in practice, nobody bothers to do that; they are effectively rewarded for their broken bike with an extra dollar).

    All in all, anyone who wants to get around in a scooter with any kind of regularity can do so for far less money by simply buying their own scooter. You can even buy foldable models that can be stowed under the seat on board public transit.

    But, if you’re riding pretty much anywhere other than the Burke-Gilman trail, you’re probably better off just sticking with a bike.

    1. It’s been my observation that the financial model for Lime and it like is to make money buy 1) sucking in investor money but 2) sucking city governments for grants to get the service started. Then they pull up stakes and send the equipment to the scrap heap. As P.T. Barnum is credited with saying about sucking money…

      1. They also want to gather data about riders. That is why they quit. Once you have enough data, there is no reason to continue.

      2. What data about riders of a scootershare is useful if there’s no scootershare and no plans to have one again? Is there no other way of determining the kinds of people who live in Seattle?

      3. The data is about the trips that people take, not how they take those trips.

        Yes, there are other ways to find the data — I’m just saying that this is what drives a lot of these companies. It may seem silly and stupid, but until the company goes belly up (dot-com bubble style), lots of people will invest in it and pay for it.

  7. For a city like Seattle, this is just a distraction. It will never scale to the level that is needed. It isn’t appropriate.

    For a city like Olympia, or Bellingham, a dockless scooter/bike program is fine. Those are small, low density cities that will never have big public transportation (or public micromobility) use, no matter the quality. You can follow NACTO guidelines really well, and put docks at every block, and not that many people will use them.

    On the other hand, Seattle has the potential of high bikeshare ridership, like Boston or Vancouver. Use will increase with the ubiquity of the bikes. Cities that have had success with bikeshare have docks everywhere, so that you don’t have to walk very far to access a bike. Theoretically you can achieve the same thing with dockless systems, but that creates clutter. In big cities, you also have lots of pedestrians. To reach the same level of convenience found with a good dock system, you end up with a walking hazard. This is an obvious conflict. You want more bikes (or scooters) to make that system more effective, but you don’t want bikes and scooters blocking the sidewalk everywhere (or worse yet, dumped in bike lanes).

    If you look at the map (https://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Shared-Micromobility-Across-the-U.S..png) there is a strong correspondence between city density and docked system. This is appropriate for the reasons I wrote. We are acting like a low density city, when we are not.

    The level of ignorance shown by the city council on this subject is baffling. The idea that we should just try it, when there is plenty of data out there is ridiculous. None of this is new. I have no idea whether the scooter companies will be around a year from now or not, just like I had no idea how long the dockless bike companies would last. That isn’t the point. It is clear, from all evidence, that no bikeshare or scooter system will provide a substantial portion of micromobility use without density and docks. We have the former, we should add the latter. This requires a subsidy, but that is true for more conventional public transportation.

    Oh, one last thing. Bikeshare is often used like public transit, or in conjunction with public transit. Scootershare is used more for recreation and exercise. https://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Why-People-Ride-with-Methodology.png. That may be a reflection of where and how scooter systems have been implemented, as opposed to the devices themselves, but that just furthers my point. These will be used for the occasional joy rider, and unlike bikeshare systems, will not be an integral part of the public transportation system.

    The diagrams were taken from this report: https://nacto.org/shared-micromobility-2018/

  8. RossB is correct again. Scooter share is not necessary and a distraction. To be successful, it has to be everywhere; if everywhere, it is too much in the way. It would harm those we should not want to harm: disabled, seniors, and kids. Martin meant complement with an “e”, not an “i”.

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