Special to NWA Media
If you’ve been on a paved trail lately, you’ve almost certainly seen someone enjoying a ride on an e-scooter. Fayetteville has permitted two companies, which offer 500 of these scooters for rent to anyone 18 years or older.
These little electric scooters are a blast. On a typical day in Fayetteville, people take more than 1,000 e-scooter trips. Most riders are just cruising, but research also finds at least a third of the trips are for transportation. It’s likely these scooters are taking hundreds of cars off Fayetteville roads every day.
As part of my job with the city of Fayetteville, I’m responsible for the day-to-day oversight of the shared bikes and e-scooter companies. Working with these “micro mobility” providers has become one of the most interesting parts of my job. One of the companies, Spin, is owned by Ford Motor Co.; the other, VeoRide, is one of the few independent outfits in the industry. These companies operate like hybrids of old-school bike shops with tech startups aiming to change the world.
The e-scooters themselves seem pretty simple, but it takes a trove of technology and smart features to let them function profitably at only a few bucks per ride.
In Fayetteville, their top speed is set at 15 mph. The ability for the city to regulate the speed of the scooters is a huge advantage for safety. Many people riding bicycles regularly exceed the trails’ 15 mph speed limit. But e-scooter riders can’t speed no matter how hard they mash the throttle.
Designated slow zones in parks and on the University of Arkansas campus that have been mapped into the scooters’ GPS automatically slow the scooters to 6 mph to protect pedestrians. Safety is my top concern with the scooters, so I’m glad to say that (as of now) with more than 300,000 rides to date, the city has yet to see a fatality or severe crash.
Parking, I’ll be the first to admit, can be a problem with the e-scooters. People leave them in odd, sometimes inappropriate places. I’ve personally corrected more bad e-scooter parking jobs than I care to count. However, the technology is helping. Users are required to take a photo of their parked scooter before ending their ride, and other users can report improper parking through the app.
These amount to minor snags for an exciting new technology.
So many of the people who use the scooters wouldn’t otherwise ride a bicycle or take other forms of alternative transportation. Survey data shows this, and it’s apparent by looking at scooter riders’ footwear: You see more flip-flops, work boots and high heels than cycling cleats or running shoes.
Scooters are tapping into a new generation of trail users who may not want to own or maintain a bicycle, but who still enjoy hitting the trails on two wheels with some friends. Sometimes I just have to lean back and appreciate that every ride, every new data point, adds up to an alternative transportation revolution — one being powered by thousands of joyrides.