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In a recent Streetsblog SF article, they posed an important question: How should e-scooter companies and regulators deploy in a way that helps disadvantaged communities of color without spreading fleets so thinly that they cease to be useful? And a new study, Drawing the map: The creation and regulation of geographic constraints on shared bikes and e-scooters in San Francisco, by UC Berkeley’s Marcel E. Moran attempts to answer it.
Moran reportedly explained to Streetsblog: “I analyze three years worth of changes to shared bike and scooter geofences in San Francisco (2017-19), demonstrating the tension between operators’ interest in emphasizing the densest areas of a city and the public-sector desire for spatially-equitable coverage. I also reviewed SFMTA’s permit guidelines and the applications submitted by operators, which further shed light on how these ‘geofences’ were constructed.”
San Francisco originally banned e- scooters, but later set up permit programs with caps and specific requirements, including low-income programs. There are currently three companies operating in the city: Lime, Scoot, and Spin.
Regulations also require e-scooters to have a “lock-to device, clear parking guidelines and parking enforcement,” and a “complaints database.” But according to Moran’s 22 page report: “[L]ess attention has been paid to the way private operators spatially constrain access to their fleets, such as via the use of virtual geographic boundaries (hereafter “geofences”), or how municipalities have regulated these features. San Francisco, given it is home to a number of these schemes, presents a compelling case for studying geofences, and how regulators have sought to influence them to further public policy goals, including spatial equity.”
The study further asks: “If bike-share is meant to provide transportation alternatives to a wide swath of neighborhoods, stations cannot only be placed within office centers or high-end commercial districts. Such bike-share-planning outcomes can reinforce existing transportation inequities or ‘transport poverty’ across cities, which have often left low-income neighborhoods with less access to transit than wealthier ones as well as jobs. Indeed, the trade-off between coverage and ridership, in that ridership generally does not increase as coverage expands beyond dense areas is well covered in the literature, not only for bike-share, but also for transit. Beyond finances, others have noted that the tension between ridership and coverage also relates to environmental sustainability, in that transit systems which are restricted to dense areas (and not outlying peripheries) can be less carbon intensive per rider.”
The study identifies related deficiencies in how scooter deployment is regulated, like how the regulations don’t coordinate non-docked bike-share deployment with scooter deployment, which should compliment each other.
Before the pandemic, one big problem in transportation planning and regulation was how to deal with the influx of new mobility modes, mainly app-based rental e-scooters and bicycles. While opponents of micromobility raise the issue of the devices often being dumped onto sidewalks, occasionally blocking passage and causing accidents, those in favor consider e-scooters and bike-share as an inexpensive alternative for people living in communities with poor transit access.