City of Boulder transportation officials are considering allowing electric scooters across the entire city as part of a broader goal to help encourage residents to drive less.
The city has already allowed about 300 e-scooters mostly east of 28th Street as part of a pilot program that launched in August 2021. The scooters, manufactured by Lime, a San Francisco-based company, are controlled by GPS technology that limits where they can go and how fast.
City transportation officials presented the results of a preliminary study of the pilot program to the Transportation Advisory Board on Nov. 14. In doing so, they recommended greatly expanding where the scooters are allowed to go — across the entire city, with some new restrictions, including prohibiting them on Pearl Street.
Boulder officials want to expand access to e-scooters as part of its strategy to reduce the number of people who drive cars inside the city. The e-scooters, the report states, “may be instrumental in significantly contributing to a shift from the dependence of motor vehicles.”
Nearly half of scooter riders who completed a recent city survey said they used a scooter when they otherwise would have driven a car or requested a ride through a rideshare app. From March 2018 to November 2022, the city gathered 1,022 survey responses from residents about e-scooters. About a third of the respondents, 343, had ridden one.
“There’s … an appreciation for shared e-scooters, as they provide a new alternative to driving and they are considered a more convenient mode of transportation, which are also fun to ride,” Dave Kemp, a senior city transportation planner, told the Transportation Advisory Board.
During the pilot program, people rode nearly 118,000 miles on the e-scooters — equivalent to crisscrossing the country about 40 times — according to the report. The city estimates the scooter rides saved approximately 26,000 pounds of CO2, a planet-warming gas. (That figure is calculated based on the assumption that 25% of all scooter trips replaced an equally long trip in an automobile. The avoided vehicle miles traveled is then converted to grams of CO2 not emitted, using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s methodology.)
Summary data on ridership has been made available by Ride Report, a Portland-based software company. The most popular street for scooting is 30th Street, where the city is currently building a multi-use path and intersection upgrades as part of a broader effort to make its streets safer for people who do not drive cars.
The percentage of Boulder residents who use cars to get around the city is dropping, according to the 2019 Transportation Master Plan. The plan indicates that when alone, residents use cars for about 37% of all their trips around the city. But the percentage of people who commute into Boulder for work — about half the city’s workers — hasn’t budged much. Commuters use cars for about 77% of their trips, according to the master plan.
Members of the Transportation Advisory Board were supportive of expanding access to e-scooters as an incremental step toward encouraging people to drive less. One positive ripple effect, advocates say, is that people use e-scooters to get from the bus stop to their final destination — the so-called “last mile” that often discourages people from using public transit.
“This is a core component of an overall multimodal system,” board member Ryan Schuchard, founder of More Mobility, said in response to the presentation. “This isn’t just scooters. This is part of an integrated system that we need to build.”
In addition to expanding where scooters can go, city officials are considering changes to policies that would reduce nuisance issues and encourage more low-income riders.
Sidewalk scooting: four crashes
Most of the riders preferred using a bike lane, according to the city survey. But sidewalks are popular for scooting, too, even though city code prohibits riding them on a sidewalk. Riders are worried about being hit by drivers, according to the report.
The city’s report says one reason for prohibiting scooters on the sidewalk is to “mitigate potential conflicts between people walking and using wheelchairs.” But the city has received no reports of crashes between scooter riders and other people on the sidewalk.
Officials may consider loosening restrictions for scooting on the sidewalk.
“In Boulder, the data to date suggests that riding e-scooters on a sidewalk is more of a perceived safety issue rather than an actual crash issue,” the report states. “Perceived risk should not be ignored; however, as perceived risk is a deterrent for people who would normally use sidewalks and multi-use paths, but do not because of safety concerns.”
Over the course of the year, residents reported four crashes resulting in hospitalization. One involved a vehicle driver. None involved other users of the sidewalk.
Docking like e-bikes
Another issue, according to the city, is the number of people leaving scooters on the sidewalk or in a bike path. The city is concerned the scooters could become an obstruction and create problems for pedestrians, particularly people with disabilities.
As part of an updated policy, the city is considering a requirement that more people dock scooters, much like is required for shared e-bikes. By requiring “parking zones,” riders are unable to end their rides — and therefore have to pay more — unless they drop them off in a specific location.
The city is considering creating parking areas near certain residential areas and shopping centers.
The city’s report indicates 13 of the 300 e-scooters were decommissioned or recycled due to vandalism to water damage. The scooters are built to last five years.
The city found steady ridership from people in its “racial equity zone,” an area where it required Lime to place scooters so that “community members living in or near traditionally underserved communities have access.”
This area mostly included neighborhoods north of Valmont Road, inducing the San Lazaro neighborhood, a mostly Latino community in East Boulder just outside city limits.
The city said registrations under Lime’s affordable program, Lime Access, has been low. That’s likely because Lime Access requires proof of identification and enrollment in a public assistance program. Under the program, the cost to ride a scooter is half price — $.50 to unlock the scooter and $.07 per minute, according to the city.
The report said the city wants to remove barriers to accessing the e-scooter discounted program, but did not state specifics. A 2021 state law, SB-077, allows local governments to no longer require proof of residency status to qualify for certain public assistance programs.
The city is planning to draft up an ordinance that may allow e-scooters across the entire city, with some restrictions, by the spring of 2023.