Jan 9, 2019

Will scooters find a (curb) space of their own in 2019?

Jacob Baskin

CTO & Co-Founder

By 2020, will this be a row of parked scooters? (Photo by Z Klein)

By 2020, will this be a row of parked scooters? (Photo by Z Klein)

Almost everyone who tracks mobility trends agrees: 2018 was the year of the scooter. Ask TechCrunch, Forbes, CityLab, Curbed, VentureBeat or even us at Coord.

The growth of micro-mobility, particularly electric scooters, has been staggering in terms of ridership, expansion, and investment. Bird, founded less than 2 years ago, now operates in more than 100 cities, passed 10 million rides in September, and is valued at more than $2 billion. Spin, which pivoted from bike-sharing to scooters in June, was bought by Ford for $100 million. Lime, which joined the scooter game in February, served up 26 million rides in more than 100 cities worldwide and offers scooters through the Uber app. Uber separately invested a reported $200 million through its acquisition of Jump, which now offers both bikes and scooters.

Because dockless scooters and bikes offer opportunities to fill transit deserts, ease car traffic and reduce pollution, we would expect people to be celebrating their introduction to the modern commute. That has not always been the case.

Along with growing concerns about safety, scooter vandalism is becoming a serious problem. Some residents, fed up with scooters left laying on sidewalks, curbs, and in front yards, have taken to destroying the vehicles or tossing them in dumpsters. In October alone, some 60 had to be fished out of California’s Lake Merritt, the oldest wildlife refuge in North America, according to Slate. There are even entire social feeds dedicated to documenting scooter destruction. For example, the Instagram account @birdgraveyard collects examples from around the country, and @pdxscootermess tracks the destruction of scooters in Portland, Oregon.

It doesn’t have to be this way. After all, people leave cars on public streets all the time without expecting vandalism. Car parking wasn’t always an accepted use of the shared right-of-way either, but over time, cities developed laws and norms for where and how cars could be parked. Similarly, cities and micro-mobility providers can take steps to carve out a spot for scooters — -which are, after all, smaller and more environmentally friendly than cars — -and cement their future as a much-loved and frequently used form of transportation.

(Curb) Space: The Final Frontier

To boldly go where no scooter has gone before (photo by Nathan Dumlao)

To boldly go where no scooter has gone before (photo by Nathan Dumlao)

If 2018 was the year that scooters broke out, 2019 will be the year they need to find ways to fit in. Cities, micro-mobility operators, and riders will have to find ways for increasing numbers of scooters to coexist with drivers, bikers and pedestrians. That means better integrating scooters into the larger universe of transportation options and sharing space on already crowded roads, curbs, and sidewalks.

For example, if there’s a scooter-commuting hot spot in a neighborhood, and riders leave their scooters piled up, cities can reallocate nearby underutilized street parking space to scooter parking. Then, by sharing scooter parking locations digitally with fleet managers, cities will give fleets the tools they need to ensure riders are only parking their vehicles where they won’t block pedestrian or vehicle traffic. The city of Santa Monica, by many measures Ground Zero of the scooter explosion, has started allocating space to scooters, but as scooters expand to new cities and neighborhoods, governments must be proactive about helping scooters find their own pieces of pavement before they start to choke the street.

In order to do this, however, we first need to understand the real estate. Most cities require shared-scooter providers to share their fleet data, so they can analyze where and when scooters are available. But we also need to understand the curb itself. Many cities don’t have a good record of the rules of their curbs, or of how street and sidewalk space is being used today. Even building accurate citywide maps of curb widths and landscaping elements can be a significant challenge, and without this information, it can be hard to know where there is space that could be repurposed effectively.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to digitize the curb. Once cities know about their infrastructure in detail, they can combine this information with usage data to make informed decisions about where and how to allocate space for new forms of mobility like scooters.

This is where Coord comes in. With tools like Surveyor, we make it much faster and cheaper for city officials, transportation planners, and parking consultants to collect data about curb infrastructure. We also have experience understanding bike and scooter data to surface deeper insights about the way these systems work in practice.

If you are interested in better understanding curbs and mobility infrastructure in your city, get in touch with us at partners@coord.co to learn more. We hope that in 2019, we can help every vehicle find its own corner of the curb!

Jacob Baskin

CTO & Co-Founder

Jacob Baskin is Coord's co-founder and CTO. Before starting Coord, Jacob worked at Google, where he helped to build Doubleclick Ad Exchange, one of the Internet's largest advertising platforms. In his free time, Jacob enjoys playing bridge and walking around far-flung areas of New York City -- not just to look at the parking signs!