Study: Scooters Close First-, Last-Mile Gaps

A DePaul University study, funded in part by Bird, showed promise when if comes to closing transit gaps and improving the lives of families without cars.

by Mary Wisniewski, Chicago Tribune / December 14, 2018
Bird e-scooter riders in Los Angeles. (Shutterstock)

(TNS) — A new DePaul University study finds that electric scooters could be useful for trips to and from transit, and could help more Chicago households to do without a car.

The study was conducted by DePaul’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. It received some funding from Bird, a Santa Monica-based scooter company, though the study’s authors said this did not influence results.

Chicago has not yet permitted scooter companies to start ride-sharing services, which have been controversial in other cities. The city is gathering data about scooters before giving any company permission to set up shop. A new city task force is also looking at scooters, along with other transportation technology issues.

Joseph Schwieterman, one of the study’s authors, said scooters could be handy when a trip is a little too far for a comfortable walk, but a walk to a Divvy station would be cumbersome and hiring a ride-share service like Uber or Lyft would be too expensive.

“There’s a real gap in options for short-hop trips,” said Schwieterman, who is on the city’s transportation task force.

Schwieterman said the mobility benefits from scooters are “pretty compelling,” though the city would have to figure out how to keep them from cluttering sidewalks, or getting tossed in bodies of water, as has happened in other cities. One advantage of scooters is that they are small and would be easier to park than dockless bikes, he said.

Because there is no scooter-sharing service available, the study had to speculate, using a computer travel model, on how scooters might operate. It tested different models with different numbers of scooters — in one scenario, for example, it imagined 1,000 scooters scattered through an area on the West Side.

The study found that travelers making trips between a half mile and two miles would get the most benefit from e-scooters, since the trips would be generally faster than those on Divvy bike-share over this distance, due to the time required to walk to and from bike share stations. The cost of using an e-scooter, without tax, would be around $1.10 per trip plus $1.33 per mile, making them cost-effective on short trips, the study said.

The study saw scooters as less feasible for longer trips, since the amount of time saved would be insufficient to justify the additional cost compared to Divvy and transit. The study also found that scooters would not pose much threat to public transit on longer trips, but would fill a void caused by limited transit coverage for trips between neighborhoods.

“Our hope is that scooters would be part of this changing ecosystem of transportation options that allow people to go without a car,” said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, an advocacy group for bikes, pedestrians and transit. He said he also sees the potential of more citizens becoming advocates for bike lanes, since scooters should not be ridden on sidewalks.

But Burke said there are still concerns about scooters being left on the sidewalk, scooters being ridden on the sidewalk and threatening pedestrians, injuries from riding on scooters and scooters crowding bike lanes.

©2018 the Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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