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Lots of People are Still Riding Scooters in Columbus

Brent Warren Brent Warren Lots of People are Still Riding Scooters in ColumbusPhoto by Taijuan Moorman.
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The first rentable electric scooters in Columbus arrived in the summer of 2018, and the first two companies to operate here – Bird and Lime – saw significant ridership as people flocked to try out the new devices.

In 2019, two more companies entered the market; Spin scooters came in June (and are still here), while Lyft started offering scooters in June but took them away in November.

The latest numbers show that plenty of people are still riding the scooters, and, in some cases, are actually incorporating them into their daily commutes.

There were a total of 796,438 scooter rides taken in Columbus in 2019, according to data collected from the companies by the city and compiled by Columbus Underground. That works out to an average of 2,182 trips per day over the course of the year, roughly on par with the numbers posted by Bird and Lime in 2018.

Lime tallied the largest 2019 total, with nearly 418,000 rides, while Bird was second (with 225,550), followed by Spin (77,577) and Lyft (75,379).

Not included in those totals are the rides taken on Lime scooters that were initially placed on the campus of Ohio State University; those are governed by an agreement with the school and don’t fall under the purview of the city.

Frank Williams, Administrator of the Infrastructure Management Division in the Department of Public Service, is the city’s point person on scooters. He administers the permitting process and works to ensure that the companies follow the rules and regulations for the devices that were established in 2018.

He says that there is still work to be done to analyze the data and plenty to to learn about the impact of all those scooter rides on different neighborhoods, although one thing in particular did jump out to him about the information collected in 2019.

“We found that people are using scooters as a form of main transportation, and I was surprised about that,” Williams says. “To hear from those people – and there are quite a few – who use some type of multi-modal approach to getting around in daily life…[combining] COTA and scooter, or, they use a scooter as their main transportation to work, it confirms that it is something we should support as a mobility option.”

The city has not made any decisions about what that support might look like, Williams adds, or how it would translate into either new infrastructure or policy.

Harvey Miller, a geography professor at Ohio State and the Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA), says that the answer is obvious.

“We should be building Light Individual Transportation (LIT) lanes; these are protected travel lanes for scooters and bicycles,” he says. “We should also provide room for micromobility parking by replacing at least one on-street car parking spot per block for bikes and scooters.”

Miller acknowledges that, “in the big picture, micromobility travel is relatively small compared to travel by other modes, especially by car,” but points out that it’s important to look at where these trips are being taken.

“The spatial patterns show that in some parts of the city, such as Downtown, nearby neighborhoods and the University District, micromobility is clearly filling a need,” he says.

A map submitted to the city by Bird shows where the company’s scooters were ridden during July 2019.

Columbus built its first and only protected bike lane – on Summit Street, in the University District – in 2015, before any scooter companies had set up shop here. In the last year and a half the lane has seen plenty of use by scooters as well as cyclists, and some advocates see scooter-users and cyclists as natural allies in pushing for more protected lanes in Columbus.

In Miami, Florida, city officials recently celebrated the opening of a bike lane funded by scooter revenue, but a separate effort from Bird to directly fund bike and scooter infrastructure was quietly discontinued last January.

Columbus does collect money from scooter companies; each company has to pay for a $500 annual permit, as well as $75 for each scooter it operates. At this point, that money is just going into a general revenue stream and is not being specifically directed toward new infrastructure or programs to support micromobility options.

Williams says he is not ruling out, at some point in the future, “a recommendation from my office [concerning] infrastructure…but for now, we are still watching and learning.”

In the meantime, he is focused on safety issues, responding to complaints about scooters, and making sure that the companies operating here follow the rules that have been established by the city. Last spring, Columbus Underground reported that Bird had pulled scooters from Franklinton, Linden and the Near East Side, despite the city’s requirement that scooters be available in a variety of neighborhoods.

“We had to come to the table and make sure people [from the companies] understood the language in the permit,” Williams says, adding that the city did issue warnings to companies that were not complying with the rules. “It wasn’t anything too egregious, but this is what happens when you have vendors who are not familiar with the city.”

As for what 2020 might hold, Williams says there are several new companies that have reached out about coming to Columbus, but they haven’t yet acquired permits.

The scooter and micromobility market, which has been fueled by venture capital money, remains inherently unpredictable.

“The key is to make sure we have as many mobility options [as possible],” Williams says, “and to have enough units available for people that are using them.”

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