Over the past week or two, both Lime and Bird have introduced over 300 electric scooters spanning north and west Oakland to the east of Lake Merritt.
Electric scooters quickly grew popular in San Francisco over the past few months, but recently all scooters were removed from City streets while companies wait to apply for a scaled back permit program.
In the meantime, San Francisco’s loss has been Oakland’s gain, with both companies fighting for a foothold in the East Bay market.
Despite their recent addition to Oakland, scooters have already taken hold. Around downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, scooter use already appears to match that of bicycling, drawing a wide range of riders. The popularity of scooters mirrors that of GIG cars and ride-hailing apps: they provide a convenient and affordable means of transportation without needing a car.
For cities like Oakland with relatively high density but uneven bus and bike share connectivity, scooters help fill an unmet mobility need.
In peer cities like San Francisco and Santa Monica, each scooter is used about four to five times per day – about double the usage rate of Ford GoBikes. If such trends carry over to Oakland, a scooter system could operate profitably at no cost to the City.
Predictably, there have already been some growing pains as Oakland acclimates to scooters, both in a legal and behavioral sense.
Most scooter riders break the law in some form — by riding on sidewalks, riding without a helmet, or riding without a driver’s license. However, California’s scooters may soon be updated: one bill, AB 2989, would eliminate the helmet requirement for adults and permit riding on sidewalks if no bike lane is present.
Perhaps the more complex challenge is educating riders about safe behavior. Anecdotally, while a majority of riders seem to operate scooters in a safe and reasonable manner, some people use them irresponsibly, either riding too fast or parking disruptively.
This problem is by no means unique to scooters; the same criticisms could be said of some drivers, bicyclists, or skateboard users.
However, given the fact that scooters have been in Oakland for less than two weeks, people are still learning how to use and interact with them, and are understandably surprised at their immediate popularity.
Oakland should capitalize on the initial success of scooters to develop a reasonable and forward-thinking approach to accommodating a new mode of transportation.
Cities often focus on constraining supply as the primary means of scooter regulation, making scooters a novelty in the transportation system.
In San Francisco, a City of 884,000 people, 497,000 vehicles, and 275,000 on-street parking spaces, the City will allow only a meager 1,250 scooter permits – equivalent to about 60 parking spaces worth of scooters.
As Oakland develops rules and regulations for scooters, a more reasonable course of action would be to work with scooter companies to focus on fleet distribution and management of scooters, coupled with a proactive education campaign and a doubling-down on the implementation of bike lanes.
Hopefully, Oakland can serve as a model for leveraging scooters to expand mobility for all residents.