How Electric Scooters Could Fit Into Louisville's Transit Ecosystem
It takes a minute to get the hang of an electric scooter. You stand upright on it, kind of like a skateboard — a skateboard with a handle, accelerator, brake and cute bell.
Last week, riders in Louisville had a chance to try electric scooters after California company Bird launched here without warning, only to be kicked out the next day. A city spokesman said the company’s entrance into the market was premature, and that conversations about which transit laws will cover the vehicles are ongoing.
Marion Hambrick rented a Bird scooter for $1 plus 15 cents a minute on Friday. He downloaded the free app and scanned a picture of his driver's license to set up an account. After snapping a code on the scooter, he took off around downtown.
"I had only intended to be on it for maybe like a couple minutes, just to try it out, but it’s so much fun that I could’ve probably stayed on it for another hour at least," Hambrick said.
Hambrick said the scooters are a good idea as long as people realize they can go fast, up to 15 miles an hour. He was prepared with a helmet, which is technically required, and paid attention to cars as he rode with traffic.
While electric scooters may be fun and novel, cities are now grappling with how to incorporate them. Concerns include rider and pedestrian safety, as well as clutter, since the scooters can be left anywhere and unlocked with a smartphone app.
Electric scooter companies are backed by hundreds of millions of venture capital dollars, but have been banned in cities including San Francisco, St. Louis and now Louisville.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said he wants to encourage people to choose alternatives to cars more often, as he discussed in an interview with WFPL before the mayoral primary. Like other medium-sized cities, Louisville is car-heavy with a limited and inefficient public transit system.
"So many people are wanting the ability to live in a city where they don’t have to have a car or, certainly don’t have to have two cars," he said.
The city’s 20-year Move Louisville plan calls for embracing smart mobility options such as on-demand ride services and bike sharing. Electric scooter shares would fit in that category, too.
After kicking Bird out on Friday, the city released a statement saying it’s excited to welcome it back.
Excitement may be too strong an emotion for this scenario, said David King, an assistant professor of urban planning at Arizona State University, and an expert in transportation planning and policy.
"I don’t think they should try to discourage these, but I don’t think they should get over-exuberant about what the opportunity is," he said. "How can you encourage people to drive a little bit less? Maybe these scooters and bike share and everything else are part of that solution. At this point, we don’t know."
The city won’t say which transit rules will cover electric scooters.
But King said cities shouldn’t design transportation policy around a certain company or even a particular technology. Instead, he thinks they should regulate spaces. That would mean prohibiting motorized vehicles in pedestrian areas, or keeping low-speed vehicles off of busy multi-lane roads.
That way cities can plan for all kinds of transit forms, even those that haven’t been invented yet.