Scooters Are Proof Positive Government, Industry Can Collaborate

The relationship between the public and private mobility sectors will likely continue to evolve as the public gains an increasing affinity for scooters, bikes and other transportation modes.

by / April 5, 2018
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If the seemingly overnight appearance of rentable electric scooters, bikes and other pieces of the “micro-mobility” marketplace exposed the growing pains between private-sector and local transit agencies, the movement also proved the two can quickly work well together.

And going forward, they must.

“While I don’t celebrate the way that scooters came into market, they did prove that government can work quickly,” said Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus for the Columbus Partnership in Ohio.

Davis’ comments were part of a discussion on “The Changing Mobility Market” at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo in Denver April 2.

In just the last couple of years, dozens of cities now have the shareable scooters and bikes buzzing up and down streets — and in too many instances, sidewalks. Municipal governments scrambled to adjust policies to enable the businesses while protecting the interests of public safety and welfare.

Officials were also quickly clued in on the need to integrate these providers into the mass transit ecosystem because the two can work together to both grow ridership as well as user experience and convenience. Cities also began requiring scooter companies and others to hand over user data to aid in their own transportation planning.

“I’m really encouraged by the literacy of the cities — of policymakers and procurement — in knowing more about what the value of the data is,” said Davis.

“I think government can respond quickly,” Davis continued.

Still, cities have an obligation to residents to have a clear and logical process for approving and regulating the mobility marketplace. And sometimes, that requires patience.

“There is due diligence to the process,” said Davis. “There’s a thoughtfulness to stakeholders and the community and the resident voice. And they [government officials] do have a role to protect equity. And so I think the government role has to be respected in this innovation space too. But I think that government is very adaptable when they need to be.”

This leaves open the discussion of what comes next? How will the relationship between government and private transportation providers continue to evolve?

For one, city planning has to begin to include different forms of transportation, with dedicated lanes not only for cars, but also transit vehicles.

“We need to think about the street, not just as main lanes from curb to curb,” said Devin Patel, vice president for development at Passport, a transportation software company providing mobile ticketing, parking and other services. “It’s all now access for transportation.”

“I would say that the concept of dedicated right-of-way is really, really important,” Davis echoed. “I think scooters are here to stay. They are wildly used in Columbus.”

Cities should think about how to recoup some of the revenue that private-sector mobility providers are reaping for using city infrastructure, said Patel.

“I think it’s high time that cities get some of that revenue, in a fair way,” he added. “I think it’s going to be charged at fleet levels, because these guys are making tons and tons of money off of your assets.”

And then there is, of course, the nagging issue of data sharing among public and private sectors. To smooth these waters, cities may want to consider standardizing policies to make the arrangements with private companies more seamless, experts say.

“I think it’s going to be very hard and frustrating for private-sector companies to have to go in all these different communities, at scale, and work with different data sharing requirements,” said Davis.

“And so cities really need to think about what type of API standards we want to create…so that we can create a better open data environment,” she added. 

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.