Scooters filling bike racks

Rentable scooters, called shared rideables by the city, are thick as flies in Sacramento central city. They are being deployed to bike rack areas, completely filling the racks and leaving no space for bikes.

The photo below shows a rack with each space occupied by a scooter, no spaces available. It also illustrates a JUMP rack at which other companies are deploying their scooters. These JUMP racks, and the trapezoidal racks, were purchased for the original SoBi and later JUMP systems, and so ‘belong’ to the JUMP/Lime system.

Individuals are free to park their own bike or scooter, or any bike scooter they rent, at these racks, but the other companies are prohibited from deploying to them.

And there are simply too many scooters in some areas, particularly Old Sacramento and R Street. Lime, Bird, Spin, and Razor are deploying more scooters to high demand areas than can possibly be rented in a day. I assume that they are trying to drive each other out of business so they can dominate and raise prices, which is the business model for all app-based companies. In some ways, a fallout would be good, but in the meanwhile, the huge number of scooters is occupying public space, the sidewalks, and reducing livability and walkability.

Scooters on R Street

Scooters are still being parked in locations where they block sidewalk access, particularly for people with mobility devices or with vision limitations who cannot easily maneuver around the scooters. The prevalence of this has declined over time, but any is too much. I suspect that the companies are not holding users to account for illegal parking by fining them or cancelling accounts for repeated violations.

Scooters are often lying on the ground, making for even worse access issues. With the exception of Razor which was designed with a dual kickstand, all the scooter models in use in Sacramento area have flimsy, one-sided kickstands. People knock them over intentionally or accidentally, and they even fall over in high winds.

Solutions:

  • Prohibit companies from filling more than 50% of any bike rack with scooters.
  • Create more scooter parking areas, on wide sidewalks or within the street parking area, so that bike racks are not used as much for scooters.
  • Require scooters to have dual kickstands.
  • Require the companies to demonstrate an actual level of use of their scooters, or else reduce the number of scooters, or disperse deployment.

I’m hoping to see scooter charging stations show up, so that scooters in denser areas can be charged while parked. The motor vehicle use for picking up, charging, and redeploying undoes most of the environmental benefit of the scooters. Rebalancing will always be needed, but if many scooters can be charged in place, the number to be rebalanced should be low enough that they can be moved by bikes with trailers, not motor vehicles.

JUMP/Lime bikeshare update

The JUMP/Lime bikeshare bikes in Sacramento and West Sacramento say “Available on Lime and Uber” on the bikes. They are not available on Uber. After many months of the Uber app offering only ride-hail car services, they finally added back shared devices under the ‘2 Wheels’ option. The app offers to rent bikes, showing them on the map for selection, or allowing the user to scan the QR code on the bike. It goes to ‘starting ride’ and then… nothing. The bike is not unlocked, and the ride terminates after a few moments, without any message.

I have of course reported this issue to Lime. The support people insist that it works correctly, referring me to or reading from the support article “How does renting a scooter through Uber work?”. When I insist that this is incorrect, their response is, well, just use the Lime app. The reason I want to use the Uber app rather than the Lime app is that I have a large credit in Uber Cash, accumulated from rebalancing bikes in the past, that I want to use.

I’m not a scooter user, so I can’t report whether scooter rental works or not. I’m also not an Android user, so can only report on the iOS app.

The size of the bike fleet continues to be smaller than it was under JUMP. Friends who live outside the central city tell me there are rarely bikes available close to them. even in the central city it may be some distance to a bike. Under JUMP, the system did not work well until the number of bikes deployed reached a critical density of about 900 bikes, and then it worked great, being the most successful location in the country. Lime doesn’t seem interested in achieving this critical density.

I see a lot of dead bikes around, ‘dead’ meaning that the batteries are too low to rent, or the battery has completely run out. For a few of these bikes in my neighborhood, I’ve reported them to both Lime and to the city, but Lime was very slow to pick the bikes up. One dead bike was there for a week before it was picked up; others have been there for several days after being reported.

bike share before re-opening

JUMP unceremoniously pulled out of Sacramento (the Sacramento region program that included West Sacramento and Davis) in the very early days of the pandemic. The bike and scooters disappeared, except for those few that are still out there, abandoned and never picked up. Though the company claimed that the devices weren’t being used, that is not true. Despite people not commuting to work (the stay at home was not yet clearly defined), they were still getting used, at perhaps half the rate as before. I’ve suspected that Uber/JUMP was already planning a pull-out, and saw the pandemic as a convenient excuse. Sacramento had been the most successful JUMP system in the US, in terms of rides per bike per day. Some argue that means they would not have pulled out unless they had to. But I see exactly the opposite reason, that they pulled the bikes and scooters because they were so successfully competing with what Uber considers (and has now demonstrated) to be its core business, ride hailing.

Lime also had scooters here for a while, but they disappeared as well. Spin had a program based on the campus of Sacramento State, and I saw a few of the scooters off campus, but they were never widespread. I’ve heard rumors of other scooter companies, but never saw any of the scooters. There were also some short-lived or planned but not implemented bike and scooter share programs in other cities around the region.

JUMP is now out of the bike and scooter business altogether. They sold the business, and apparently some of the bikes, to Lime. There are stories on the Internet from locations all around the US about Uber recycling the batteries and scrapping the bikes, so this is apparently widespread, and either already has or will shortly erase most of the bike fleet from existence.

Lime had an electric bike share bike for a while, though never in Sacramento. I saw them but never rode one, as the places they were available had alternative vendors that I was already using. The reviews I read said they were much better than the pedal bikes Lime was famous/infamous for, but nowhere near as good as JUMP bikes.

Apparently Lime is restarting bike share in the Denver area, using the JUMP bike model, starting this Friday. I have not heard any rumors of a restart any place else.

So, what does this have to do with re-opening from the pandemic? I have not heard anything from any of the agencies involved in the bike share program about how bike share can be brought back. SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments), the original sponsor of the Tower Bridge pilot program (remember the white SoBi bikes?), SMAQMD (Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District), which provided some of the start-up funds, the City of Sacramento, the City of West Sacramento, and the City of Davis. Not a peep. There may be discussions going on, just not public, or there may not be.

This region, not just the area covered by the JUMP program, must have a bike share program. I am less certain that scooters must be part of the program, but I’m sure many feel they should. As people who were using transit but are not willing to right now, for an unknown but hopefully not too long period of time, search for alternatives, the choice to drive, and often to purchase a vehicle in order to drive, would be disastrous for the region. Our air quality has been wonderful for three months, but has already returned to the ‘unhealthy for sensitive individuals’ level even with only a fraction of the pre-pandemic traffic levels. If 80% of those who were using transit now drive, air quality will likely be in the ‘unhealthy’ for all category for much of the summer, and jump into the ‘very unhealthy’ category from time to time. We can’t let this happen. We must provide alternatives for people who cannot and will not drive, and that must include bike share. Of course the impact of motor vehicles, more than 40% of carbon emissions in the state, go far beyond current air quality to civilization-changing climate change, but my biggest concern right now is the short term impact on air quality.

Beyond air quality and climate, there are equity concerns about how we re-open. Yes, I know the JUMP system was not perfect. Even after expansion, it covered only part of the low income communities in Sacramento. JUMP had a low income uer discount program, but it was almost a state secret, and they never solved the issue for unbanked people.

We know that most transit users right now are essential workers and people who have no other way of getting to essential destinations. Those who can have been driving, but many can’t. They are not of a driving age (too old or too young), the have valid reasons they are unable to drive, and they simply do not want to be a part of the planet-destroying car obsession. What are we doing to do for these people? Are we going to put all our transportation eggs (funding and projects) into the cars-first basket, as we have done for too long, or are we going to change our futile ways and provide real alternatives? Are we going to commit low income people to a descending spiral of debt as they try to keep old cars running, or buy cars that barely run, just so they can get where they need to go?

The solution is bike share. Here is what I think needs to happen:

  • Equity concerns must be predominant in rolling out the new bike share system. Who really needs this option? How can we make sure it works for them? As one of my favorite people, Tamika Butler (and many others) has said, we don’t want to return to normal, because normal was never acceptable. High income state office workers are not the people the new system should be designed for, though certainly it should work for them too.
  • We must discard the idea that a privately owned and operated system can work to meet the transportation needs of the region. It could be a public system, or it could be a public/private system, but it cannot ever again be solely private.
  • Bike share is identified as a critical transportation service, and as a logical part of the transit system. This does not mean that it is operated by transit agencies, though it could be, but that transit agencies are a core partner in the program.
  • Major traffic attractors will not reopen until a bike share system is in place to handle the additional car traffic that might otherwise be generated. This most definitely includes shopping malls, and probably includes government offices in downtown Sacramento. Universities and colleges are not an issue, for now, as they will be online and not the trip generators they usually are.
  • Funding for bike share infrastructure (bikes and bike racks) will be diverted from road building projects. If the emergency powers of the state and county have any meaning at all, this is well within their power to do. When transportation agencies talk about the ‘color of money’, what they generally mean is that they don’t want to make the effort to justify different uses, and they are happy with the current mode share. Time to end that malfeasance.