Scooters have proven very popular in Oakland since their launch earlier this summer, offering a convenient means of travel for a variety of trip purposes.
In a matter of weeks, scooter volumes have grown to levels comparable to bicycle volumes on many streets in and around downtown.
However, their success has largely occurred in spite of unsophisticated redistribution efforts that fail to capture morning commute demand.
While scooters seem to reflect a laissez-faire approach to mobility, the daily distribution of scooters is actually a top-down process by Bird and Lime.
Chargers (independent contractors) drop scooters at specific locations as directed each company after collecting and charging the scooters the night before.
Consequently, Bird and Lime wield significant influence over what neighborhoods may access scooters to start the day, then distribution evolves over time.
Unfortunately, both companies’ daily redistribution plans fail to adequately serve Oakland’s morning travel patterns, limiting their utility for commuting and other trips.
While scooter demand is concentrated across many neighborhoods (illustrated by the eventual distribution of scooters in the evenings), Bird and Lime distribute the vast majority of their scooters in and around Downtown Oakland.
As a result, high-demand areas like Eastlake, Lakeshore, Adams Point, Temescal, and Jack London Square lack the ability to use scooters in the mornings and primarily rely on them for afternoon and evening trips instead. The contrast between the top-down morning distribution and bottom-up evening distribution is shown below.
The lack of data-driven planning by Bird and Lime is puzzling. While downtown Oakland probably represents the highest concentration of demand on a daily basis, most scooters seem to go unused until the late mornings or afternoons.
Meanwhile, if the evening distribution of scooters serves as an indication of demand, both companies are missing out on a substantial amount of morning trip activity beginning outside of downtown – trips from residences to downtown, BART, etc.
Oakland’s proposed scooter ordinance may help improve the distribution of scooters. The ordinance requires that scooters be distributed equitably and maximize convenience for the greatest number of riders, which may help alleviate the overconcentration of scooters in downtown:
A. Dockless Bikes and Scooters should be distributed equitably throughout Oakland. No less than 50% of Operators scooters and bikes shall be deployed in Oakland’s Communities of Concern (as designated by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission). Operators shall provide real-time access to data showing the location of all their bikes and scooters.
B. Operators will closely monitor ridership and adjust bike and scooter density and location accordingly to maximize the convenience of the greatest number of riders.
Even with the ordinance, Bird and Lime need to get smarter about how they distribute scooters to better reflect demand by time of day. If they can’t do it themselves, the City should take a more assertive role in guiding the distribution based actual data. The current process isn’t making sense.