New mobility is an umbrella term covering a wide range of transportation-related technologies and trends, including self-driving cars, autonomous technologies, ride sharing, transportation alternatives and alternative fuels to name a few. As the entities with the most to gain, big cities with congested streets and rationed parking are ground zero for most of these people-moving experiments. They, after all, suffer from crushing numbers of vehicles overwhelming the infrastructure of streets and parking lots.
Almost any alternative, it would seem, should appeal to local governments wrestling with the issue of too many cars. Right? No doubt that’s what several start-up transit companies believed when they raised the funds necessary to supply hundreds of dockless bikes and scooters to the urban centers of several big cities, dumping them curbside without permits nor approval. In some cities like San Francisco and Manhattan, these ride-sharing units, abandoned helterskelter on downtown sidewalks, have created almost as big a headache for city governments as the volume of cars. It’s new mobility once again getting a jump on regulators.
The wave of new transit start-ups is big business. The real estate blog Curbed recently reported that electric-scooter start-up Bird raised $1 billion. Several other similar start-ups are raising millions. Whether they supply electric scooters, electric bikes or even regular bikes, the idea is that consumers can rent any unoccupied vehicle with the swipe of a credit card, use it for as long as needed and then park it anywhere for the next user. Industry followers call this dockless sharing. These bikes and scooters have no home. You pick them up where you find them and drop them off wherever you want. Do you really need to wait 15 minutes for an Uber to slug its way through stop-and-go traffic to get to you? Nope, just grab the nearest electric scooter and you’re off and running.
Many of these dockless services simply began dropping off their bikes and scooters on city sidewalks with no notice to the local government. It’s a ready, shoot, aim approach that left the cities completely out of the process. City officials woke up one morning and suddenly found the sidewalks littered with these bikes and scooters. Not only were the providers not sharing the revenue with the cities, but there were no regulations in place forcing them to help fund road maintenance and other typical transportation costs.
Again, Curbed reported that several of the cities involved began pushing back on the dockless services. In many cases, the cities supported the idea of scooter and bike sharing, but with some degree of regulation and organization. In Santa Monica, CA, for instance, the city approved dockless vehicles, but with several caveats, such as specific areas for pick up and drop off, as well as a cap on the number of scooters. Dockless providers must also provide constant fleet updates to the city.
What it means to you: For those living in or visiting some of the big cities where the dockless services have been transacting business, you will no doubt see several changes, such as fewer bikes and scooters left laying or parked in the middle of sidewalks, and designated parking areas where such vehicles must be picked up. And there will probably be fewer of them, as well.