Charlotte Provides the Most Compelling Evidence for E-Scooters Yet

Photo:  Nathan Rupert/Flickr/CC
Photo: Nathan Rupert/Flickr/CC

Scooters are apparently winning the race to the future of mini-transportation.

New data from Charlotte — which currently has Lime and Bird scooters and several dockless bike companies operating at the same time — shows that the scooters are much more popular. In July, residents took 100,273 trips on e-scooters, compared to 27,453 trips on bikes, the city government reports.

And even more telling: Each e-scooter was rented an average of four times a day compared to .6 rides per day for the dockless bikes, which has roughly double the fleet size.

Also surprising: people are taking the scooters on longer trips than the bikes, with an average e-scooter trip of 1.4 miles vs. 0.74 miles for the bikes, Charlotte’s data shows.

E-scooters are “winning the battle” for riders in the city, The Virginian-Pilot concluded.

Charlotte’s results are certainly not definitive, nor do they predict the demise of bike share in favor of e-scooters across the country (indeed, New York’s Citi Bike has per-bike ridership that dwarfs Charlotte’s scooters). But the numbers do offer an excellent window into consumer preference. Charlotte is one of the few cities that has both dockless bikes and dockless e-scooters and the city has been running a pilot with both that requires the companies to turn over ridership data — something we lack almost everywhere else. (Bird announced a new, more generous data policy on Wednesday.)

Many cities are still working out many issues related to scooters — clutter and riding on the sidewalk are among the chief concerns, prompting some governments to boot the scooters entirely — but local leaders, seeing their constituents taking a shine to motorized two-wheel transportation, are beginning to talk about scooter concerns as surmountable.

“There is no reason why my community shouldn’t be on the cutting edge of this technology,” New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy told my StreetsblogNYC colleague Gersh Kuntzman at a Bird event in largely African-American Bedford-Stuyvesant on Thursday.

New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy test drove a Bird scooter in New York on Thursday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy test drove a Bird scooter in New York on Thursday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Two members of the New York City Council are writing a bill that would legalize e-scooters, plotting a strategy unlike other cities, where companies like Lime and Bird just showed up en masse.

Milwaukee, where Bird had some initial troubles, is talking about the company as a partner, not merely a partner-in-crime. The same is true for Bird and Lime scooters in Columbus, Ohio.

The boom in e-scooter popularity may explain why Lime Bike Chief Programs Officer Scott Kubly recently told Streetsblog that scooters are much more likely to represent the future of transportation than bikes. Some companies, such as Spin, have moved from bikes into focusing on scooters.

The evidence from Charlotte suggests they’re onto something — and it doesn’t have a seat.

  • Emmily_Litella

    i just returned from a major western city where both Bird and Lime have been offering scooters for around a month. Riding these was so liberating. I was able to avoid the need to buy a transit day pass and take time to figure out routes and frequencies in a strange city. I also avoided Uber/Lyft and the guilt associated with using them. A car is still one more car after all. These scooters ARE coming and will be immensely popular, so thank you Council members for setting the table for an organized roll out. Scooters will support the expansion of protected bike lanes and are therefore good for cyclists so try not to hate on scooters.

    The speed on the Bird model was a bit less than the Lime model, which has a speedometer. On the Lime scooter I did 18mph on level, and about 21+ down hill. This is TOO fast, if you miss spotting a pothole or car pulling out, you will be seriously injured. On the other hand 10 to 15 is a speed that will not be offensive to bikes that may be expected to pass you. Helmet requirements seem prudent, but people will not be carrying helmets around everywhere for a couple of ten minute scooter rides, planned or un-planned.

    Finally, and there is so much more I want to say, you are paying about 15 cents per minute as long as activated. That incentivizes brisk and unsafe operation. Red light running, wrong way riding, passing peds too fast, these are problems I witnessed. Non users are affected by these behaviors and can be expected to loudly oppose the latest smart transport innovation. I strongly suggest that a base pricing structure be determined that discourages use for less than say a half mile and encourages casual riding within a reasonable distance envelope of say a mile and half to two miles. Greater distances should still be done on citibike or transit where possible.

  • Danny G

    You had me at “paying…per minute…incentivizes brisk and unsafe operation” but lost me at encouraging/discouraging scooter trips based on distance. Citibike already figured out a workable timing/pricing structure, so it would be smart to replicate it.

    (Heck, I’d even buy the unlimited monthly multi-pass that lets me undock a Citibike, unlock a scooter, and swipe onto the subway with the same card/keyfob.)

  • Joe R.

    Keep in mind from a purely profit standpoint charging by the minute makes more sense than charging by distance. If you want these companies to succeed financially then you might have to accept a payment model which perhaps incentivizes more rapid operation. That said, I tend to think most riders are just going to go full throttle all the time whenever something isn’t in their way. It’s just the nature of operating vehicles with very low power.

    I have mixed feelings on the speed. Like you, I feel anything much over 15 mph is probably too fast for a vehicle with such small wheels and inherently less stability than a bicycle. However, unlike rent-a-cars, any risk of higher speeds accrues almost solely to the rider. Also, perhaps future versions could use somewhat larger wheels which can deal with road imperfections better. The plus side of higher speeds is less passing of scooters by cyclists. I would imagine at 18 mph few cyclists would want to pass. I certainly wouldn’t really feel any great need to get by an 18 mph scooter, even on my better days when I might feel like going 21 or 22 mph. On the other hand, a 10 mph limit on these things will result in lots of cyclists trying to pass them.

    I hope I’m not jumping the ship here, but I think e-scooters and e-bikes might be the things which get us the critical mass to have some serious, Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure built. Not just protected lanes, but the whole nine yards where traffic signals are systematically removed from bike lanes, there are overpasses/underpasses at very busy intersections, there is cyclist-friendly light timing in places where it’s not feasible to remove traffic lights, there is ample room for safe passing, and so on.

  • jeff

    Comparing E-scooters with regular bikes is a bit apples-and-oranges. Of course the Average Joe prefers the assistance of a motor, especially in July in Charlotte.

    But as a bicyclist, I welcome E-scooters. I’d rather share the road with a scooter than with a car. And even if each of these scooters is “one less straphanger” instead of “one less car,” they expand the constituency of street users who understand how deadly and resource-hogging cars are as a form of urban transportation.

    A thought on both E-scooters and E-bikes: they should be regulated to limit speed. 20mph is just way too fast for anything to be traveling in a narrow, dedicated bike lane. Citibike (and bikeshare nationwide) has an impeccable safety record, and it’s not a coincidence that you almost never see one going more than 10 or 12mph.

  • com63

    I think they are still a bit on the expensive side. It would be nice if they didn’t have the $1 fee up front and just charged per minute from the start. Hopefully a price war will come soon after these become a mature form of transportation.

    Having said that, I agree that 15mph top speed is more than enough. I’m an experienced urban bike rider and riding a scooter in mixed traffic still feels a bit dicey, especially when the road is bumpy.

  • chandru

    Thanks for re-enforcing a point I’ve been making here for years: slow cycling is safe, and is non-threatening to others. If you’re doing 10-12 mph, you’re hardly likely to be doored, fall into a pothole or annoy others. Commuter cyclists who insist on barrelling down a bike lane getting pissed off at kids who wander on should take note.

  • Joe R.

    I agree entirely with your first two paragraphs but differ on the third.

    Narrow bike lanes aren’t the only places where people traveling will go. While I think e-scooters should probably be limited to ~15 mph, it’s mostly because the design of the vehicle itself makes going much faster questionable. The small wheels just can’t deal with hitting road imperfections at higher speeds like bike wheels can. 20 mph isn’t too fast for an e-bike. In fact, I think we should allow up to 45 km/hr (28 mph) for legal e-bikes. Granted, 20 or 28 mph may be too fast for some poorly-designed bike lanes but that’s where the concept of the user controlling the speed comes in. At least the speed capability is available for the times and places where it can be safely used. By artificially crippling a vehicle to the slowest speed it may need to go in certain limited situations, you decrease its overall utility. A person may choose a 28 mph e-bike over a car. Heck, they’ll often choose a 20 mph e-bike over a car. Limit the e-bike to only 10 or 12 mph, and the law of unintended consequences will result in people driving cars who might otherwise have used e-bikes.

    Citibike (and bikeshare nationwide) has an impeccable safety record, and it’s not a coincidence that you almost never see one going more than 10 or 12mph.

    Bikes in general have an impeccable safety record despite the fact many riders regularly go somewhat faster than 10 or 12 mph. What kills the most cyclists? It’s motor vehicles. Here the speed of the bike is pretty much inconsequential. Also, livable streets advocates have been touting 20 or 25 mph as “safe” speeds for motorists to drive at. Aren’t such speeds just as safe for cyclists to ride at, both to themselves and others?

    Finally, if we get enough people using e-bikes and e-scooters we might finally not have any more of those narrow bike lanes where you say it’s unsafe to travel at 20 mph.

  • Joe R.

    The experience of myself and others here disproves your point. It’s been 22 years since I’ve fallen off my bike for any reason. I’ve never gotten seriously hurt in a fall. Yes, the majority by far of my handful of crashes were indeed caused by potholes (I learned to avoid doors pretty early in the game) but speed had very little to do with it. Speed generally didn’t make things any worse as far as avoiding crashes. If you’re going fast enough, your wheel doesn’t fall far enough into a pothole to cause a crash. Ironically, I avoided a lot of potential pothole crashes by fighting the instinct to brake if I ended up in a situation where I couldn’t go around it. Bunny-hopping over it is another effective technique. The bottom line is after a few years riding I became expert at avoiding potholes in the first place, while also avoiding falling on the ones I didn’t avoid.

    The problem with blanket suggestions of doing 10 or 12 mph all the time is that it’s unnecessary from a safety standpoint, plus it makes cycling generally pointless on quite a few streets with lots of traffic signals. 10 mph cruising on such a street may well result in 4 or 5 mph average speeds if you cycle legally because you’ll be hitting red lights every other block. At that point you may as well walk.

    Also, the equipment and ability of riders vary. It’s virtually impossible to hold 10 or 12 mph on a decent bike if you’re a fairly fit rider. I have to ride my brake to maintain those kinds of speeds. Just the weight of my feet on the pedals is enough for my speed to creep up to 16 or 17 mph. Since I ride mostly for exercise, if I want to get a decent work out that usually means going a bit faster.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Joe covered it in great detail, but to assert that bicyclists should limit themselves to a rather pedestrian 10-12 MPH is absurd. You start to defeat the utility of the bike as a viable transport mode, even without a motor.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    What a surprise! People are more inclined to use a novelty that requires no physical effort over a crappy, poorly built bike that requires that one exerts themselves in the southern summer heat.

  • JK

    Cars are also far more popular than bike share.

  • Michael Smith

    Is the reason scooters have been more popular than bikes due simply to the streets in Charlotte not being very accommodating so folks are riding the scooters on the sidewalks where they don’t belong?

  • David Holtzman

    There’s an overlooked class issue here. These things are more expensive than public transportation for shorter rides that you get with transit. The affordability factor just isn’t there, which is why you mainly see riders who appear to have a bunch of disposable income. The lack of law enforcement against obviously rich lawbreakers invites social tension. Poor people can own bikes, so dockless bikes seem egalitarian. Scooters often seem to be giving well-off people a pass on walking.

  • Warren Meech Wells

    To your point about price, that’s not necessarily true. If the mean trip is 1.5 miles, that ride is easily completed in 8 minutes on an electric scooter, and would cost $2.30, which is very close to a typical non-discounted US bus/train fare.

    And, as any economist would point out, time has value. Few bus lines in the US have headways less than 15 minutes. I don’t know the exactly number, but I suspect the median US bus wait time is at least 10 minutes, meaning that for short trips, a scooter that’s handy when you need it could get you to your destination before you even set foot on your bus.

    To poor folks who may be one late arrival away from being fired, being able to leave when you want to rather than waiting for an unreliable bus is a real boon.

  • David Holtzman

    Bus Fare in Santa Monica is $1.25 (or $1.10 with stored fare on a “TAP” card). On Los Angeles city buses it’s $1.75. A transfer to a different mode of transit, like scooter, should cost maybe 50 cents, not $2.30. And scooter fare will be going up considerably once venture capital subsidization runs out.

    Scooters can have wait times too, when there are none available where you are. (Kids in my neighborhood sometimes ask you if you’ve seen any.) Having no scooter readily available is likely with “first mile” trips, since you can’t keep one outside your building overnight without paying. A lot of scooter trips are impulse buys, replacing walking, or just for fun.

  • David Holtzman

    Also note: the more people you lure off transit, the less money in transit’s coffers, the fewer runs transit agencies can afford, and the longer the transit wait times. And giving higher class people an alternative to transit means less establishment/political caring about transit, less funding for transit, and a weirder more homeless/smelly/mentally ill vibe on the bus.

  • > Commuter cyclists who insist on barrelling down a bike lane getting pissed off at kids who wander on should take note.

    If people going normal bike speeds are a problem, then start with the designers, not the bicyclists. There’s no reason why bikeways can’t be built to accommodate those cyclists and that should be the design goal for them all.

  • Warren Meech Wells

    I am familiar with bus fares in LA, having lived there before. If you visit other cities, you will find that LA’s fares are comparatively low and that many cities charge an amount closer to the numbers I used in my example. To name a few picked at random:
    NYC: $2.75
    Boston: $2.25
    Seattle: $2.75
    Chicago: $2.25
    San Francisco: $2.75
    Washington DC: $2.00

    To your point about not finding a scooter when you want one, that is at least in part due to the fact that cities are explicitly limiting the number of scooters that may be released (while placing no such limits on private vehicles, which occupy much more physical space). That is not a feature of the mode, but of the regulation. Bus headways are much more expensive to improve, and the cost if borne by the public and not a private company.

    And if you were really worried about a transit death spiral due to ridership loss, you’re missing the fact that most US transit *already died* in the 1930s-50s, and it wasn’t to scooters. The real alternative that higher-income people have to transit is car ownership, which we keep disproportionately inexpensive, as long as you can afford the up-front cost.

    Lastly, I think that scooter use tends to be split on age rather than income. If you go to San Francisco (at least before the current moratorium), yes, you will see a lot of wealthy young people riding scooters. But cross the Bay to Oakland and you will see a very different group of people riding them. And I would be *very* hesitant to be the one to tell these young people, many of whom I suspect don’t have the resources to own cars, that they should get back on the bus because we’re banning a mode that they have decided is a better use of their time and money.

  • Frank Kotter

    And here we are again….. our subset sent fighting each other for the scraps left to us. Too bad you prefer to divide over details than to unite in search of the big picture goals.

  • joeaverage21

    Bingo and thus why I own an ebike. Hills, heat, and humidity. If I lived up north in the land of 70F days and flat roads an ebike would not have been a priority.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Exactly, other road users on the same road are accommodated safely at higher speeds, but cyclists are expected to slow down and increase their travel time to cover for bike lane design flaws.

  • Stephen Simac

    that sounds like paradise, is that in the flatlands around Big Rock Candy Mountain?

  • Stephen Simac

    It’s called a traffic lane. If a cyclist is riding at 25 mph, whether assisted or not, they should use a traffic lane, and still expect motorists to pull out or turn in front of them, because many seem unable to judge the closing distance of higher speed cyclists if they even see them.

  • Stephen Simac

    There is a learning curve to riding at higher speeds that many e-bikers will not achieve before a nasty crash. Most won’t involve motorists, but will still be very painful and possibly disabling. Collisions with motor vehicles are also more dangerous and more likely at higher speeds, so it would be safer to gradually increase their legal top speed if they are to become utility transport vehicles rather than a dangerous toy. Most riders will exceed that top engine speed, by pedaling and winding out the electric motor, plus there’s tailwinds and downhills.

  • Stephen Simac

    Road rash usually heals, but it’s extremely painful, especially the scrubbing out of all the dirt and asphalt. As you say falls from a seat height are going to cause an injury, sometimes serious, even fatal when the head hits something harder. You’ve been lucky, and that’s a good thing, because most long time cyclists have their own or have heard of other’s nasty crashes that happened without warning or avoidance. Frequently these are bike career ending injuries so you won’t hear about them at the local bike stand.

  • Joe R.

    Road rash is one reason I never cycle in shorts. The pants take a lot of the edge off the road rash.

    I try to learn to avoid falls altogether. Each time I had an incident, I noted what I did wrong, then tried to never repeat it. Also, learning to fall properly, which is mostly just going loose and stretching your arms forward to protect your head, is a skill all cyclists should have. While there may have been an element of luck in that I never fell and slid into a stationary object, I tend to think it was mostly skill which has kept me safe thus far. Also, I usually ride after 10 PM. It’s more enjoyable to ride at that time due to the much lower traffic levels. The same lower traffic levels make the probability of getting hit by a motor vehicle much lower. I basically just need to watch out for potholes late nights and keep my speed in check on rough roads. This used to be more difficult before the city installed LED streetlights. The old HPS lights killed depth perception and peripheral vision. Often potholes appeared nearly flat until I was almost on top of them.

  • Joe R.

    A gradual increase in e-bike speeds is something which would probably happen anyway. I’d be perfectly fine if we went from 20 to ~28 mph in one or two increments. Or better yet maybe require those selling higher-speed e-bikes to give buyers a training class. While skilled cyclists can certainly handle 28 mph, someone who hasn’t ridden much for years, and suddenly gets on one, needs a bit of training. This is an area where human-powered bicycles have an advantage. New riders aren’t that strong, hence they can’t go fast enough to get themselves into much trouble. By the time they can, they usually have a few thousand miles of road experience under their belt.

  • Stephen Simac

    Skill is acquired over time usually by painful lessons, but if we really want cycling to be practiced by all (or at least most) then it has to be made safe and foolproof. I’m advocating for human powered mass transit, basically a cycle train on a monorail, possibly a sixpak peloton carriage, or maybe single pods gyroscopically balanced. It’s a pipedream but would solve a lot of problems and be far more affordable than “light rail.”

  • homerbound

    these companies are offering affordability programs for riders on various forms of public assistance. Their marginal costs are potentially really low.

    I think a great option would be cities allocating extra vehicles to companies that provide more discounted rides.

    There is no doubt that “poor people can own bikes” is missing the point. Dockless bike cities get lots of poor riders.

  • David Holtzman

    I lived in Oakland, and I imagine the apparent difference in scooter renters is more skin color than class.

  • David Holtzman

    The point is that human powered transportation devices are cheaper than motorized ones, which can engender class envy. The City of L.A. is offering $39 (instead of $130) per year registration fees for scooters dropped off in “disadvantaged communities.” Show me whatever data you have on class and ridership.

  • David Holtzman

    Scooters move out of sync with bikes due to their motors. I ride a bike and have often thought someone was a pedestrian until all of a sudden I notice them zooming. So I was so pleased to see a scooter rider wearing a helmet this week … I knew right away he wasn’t a pedestrian! And he was riding properly on the street … thanks, scooterer!

  • Joe R.

    We’re both thinking along similar lines—complete grade separation from everything else, and more aerodynamic designs.

    My pipedream of bicycle viaducts and more widespread use of velomobiles would be another path towards human power replacing motor power. It’s a pity aerodynamic designs were banned in the early days of bike racing or we might all be riding them nowadays given that commercial designs typically follow racing designs.

    The best way to make cycling safe is to totally separate it from other modes. The second best way is to make sure the separate cycling roads are kept in immaculate condition. Cars and potholes seem to be the two worst enemies of cyclists by far.

  • Stephen Simac

    South Korea has built a bicycle viaduct, I posted a video on my FB page Velorution2020. Velomobiles will become common with or without racers, (who were never very supportive of my bicycle lobbying efforts) and they will be left in the dust, just as they are with electric assist. However, I still advocate for bikes and motorists sharing the million plus miles of roadways (that’s just in the U.S.) without hassles or aggression. It’s a learning curve, but the ignorance is vast.

  • Scooter Study

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