In recent years, companies including Lime, Bird, Skip and Spin have made an aggressive push to introduce electric scooter rentals into Bay Area cities. To some, these scooters are a boon, providing a cheap and easy means of transportation with the click of a smartphone app. But others describe the scooters as a scourge, clogging up city streets and sidewalks while creating a host of new safety hazards for pedestrians and riders alike.
Among the e-scooters fans were a trio of elected members on the City Council's Transportation Committee. Mayor Lisa Matichak and council members John McAlister and Ellen Kamei each acknowledged they had previously taken a ride on the scooters, and found them to be a fast, easy way to get around town.
"I support this, and I hope it's successful," Matichak said at the May 13 meeting. "My biggest concern is safety, so education will be critical. But I learned how to ride a bike, and I learned how to ride a scooter."
E-scooters are touted as a "last-mile" link, bringing commuters from transit stops to their jobs. This has long been a goal for city officials, and for years they tried to fill this need by nurturing a bikeshare program.
That bikeshare program has been a bumpy ride for the city. A fully subsidized version of the bike-rental service abruptly ended in 2016 when the city declined to keep funding it amid low ridership. Last year, Lime and a wave of similar companies offered a new spin on the concept, by bringing hundreds of GPS-equipped "smart bikes" to town. But the companies' profit margins were reportedly disappointing, and they pulled out the last bicycles earlier this year.
As they kicked their bikes to the curb, Lime officials heavily promoted e-scooters as a better alternative for Mountain View and other Peninsula cities. The scooters can get up to eight times more riders per day, according to Lime representatives.
While that may be true, city officials have been skeptical. Compared to bikes, rates of injuries involving e-scooters appear to be higher in cities including Los Angeles and Portland. On the plus side, the new scooters have shown promise as a alternative to driving. City staffers have made it clear they strongly prefer bicycles, pointing out they provide better health and environmental benefits.
At the Monday Transportation Committee meeting, city staff members said that Mountain View may be able to have its cake and eat it too. They presented plans for an e-scooter pilot program, while also updating city leaders on their efforts to bring back a new bikeshare vendor. Jump, a division of Uber, has submitted an application to begin a new bikeshare operation in Mountain View, although the company is still sorting out its insurance requirements and its remains unclear when it will launch in the city. To encourage more bikes, Transportation Planner Nate Baird proposed that as a condition on scooter companies, the city could require them to also provide a certain number of rental bikes.
"We see that these scooters have high trip count per day, but we still believe that a bikeshare service also has high value," he explained. "We're trying to leverage the high trip usage of these scooters to create some incentive to provide bikes."
It was an idea that didn't generate much excitement on the council subcommittee. Matichak expressed concern that the requirement could wind up excluding e-scooter companies that don't have bicycles in their business model. McAlister described another attempt at a bikeshare service as a fool's errand.
"We've seen all the bikeshare programs not work here. I don't see why staff think this is going to work now," he said. "When I (visit) other cities, there aren't a lot of bikes but there are a lot of scooters."
Public comment was similarly supportive of scooters, with some caveats. Local residents were mainly concerned that piles of scooters could clutter city sidewalks, and they urged the city to designate drop-off areas.
The Council Transportation Committee unanimously gave its support for beginning an e-scooter pilot program. Formal guidelines will eventually be brought back to the full City Council for approval.
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