Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Hot New Thing in Dockless Electric Scooters: Docks


If you love me, you’d dock your scooter properly. Courtesy of Swiftmile

 

Laura Bliss
Laura Bliss, Staff Writer at CityLab (Transportation and Technology)   Mar 13, 2019

Cities are desperate to tame the sidewalk chaos of the e-scooter industry. One startup offers a solar-powered parking solution.

 

To understand the promise and peril of dockless scooters, look at Austin, Texas. This week, at least 9,000 of the zippy rentables are scattered on the capital city’s streets during this year’s South by Southwest festival. Nine different operators are vending cheap car-free transportation for the roughly 200,000 festivalgoers that have descended upon the city.That might be great in theory, but mixed with big crowds, car traffic, a general lack of bike lanes, and a ton of free booze, the reality is cluttered sidewalks, tripping pedestrians, and some brutal scooter crashes.Austin, in other words, is experiencing a Class 5 scoot-nado—a particularly intense variation on the shared-mobility disruption that cities nationwide have seen over the last two years. Which is why there’s a growing demand to bring scooter-sharing back to its roots, at least partly: Cities want docks for the dockless.“We’ve all seen the problems associated with these things,” Colin Roche, the co-founder and CEO of Swiftmile, told me as he packed up his company’s booth at the National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago last week. “But we also know the promise. In high-impact areas, they need to bring some order to the chaos.”
Swiftmile makes parking stations for e-scooters and bikes in support of what it calls a “semi-dockless” operating model. Their docks can pack in up to 24 Birds, Limes, Spins, and Skips in a space the size of a standard parking spot, using individual holsters equipped with anti-theft locks. More than glorified bike racks, the stations also use solar power to charge scooters while they’re tethered. They accommodate virtually all scooter models, and can gather data about vehicle use and condition.The idea isn’t necessarily to bring all dockless scooters in from the wild. In high-scooting cities, Roche thinks the sweet spot is making parking available for about 25 percent of the total fleet, especially in areas with heavy foot traffic where sidewalk space is limited and vehicles tend to get carelessly dumped. With the rest roaming untethered, providers can still reap what are seen as the economic advantages of a dockless system, Roche explained: When rentables are freed from their expensive docking infrastructure, companies can invest in the volume and scale that may be needed to grow ridership. For the sake of comparison, docked bikesharing programs generally cost about $4,000 to $5,000 per bike; electric scooters retail for between $100 and $500.

               Lyft shows off its low-fi docking solution in Arlington, Virginia. (Andrew Small/CityLab)

Roche also maintains that Swiftmile’s charging docks mean vehicles can spend more time in use and require less human labor and resources to get recharged. An analysis by Quartz recently estimated that scooters in Louisville have a lifespan of just 28 days, and that Bird, the largest scooter company in the field, loses $293 per vehicle in the Kentucky metro. “The companies spend 50 percent of their operating costs on getting these things charged,” Roche said. Though he didn’t offer numbers, Swiftmile’s website explains that the pricing model is based per charge, and is designed for savings.

Other brains in the business are starting to advocate for more of a semi-dockless model, too. Kyle Rowe, the head of government partnerships at Spin, said he expects to see more dockless-scooter docks emerge in the congested corridors of the country’s scooter capitals, with the majority of the vehicles still ranging freely in residential areas. And Caroline Samponaro, the head of bike, scooter, and pedestrian policy at Lyft, believes that docks should be available for entire fleets of shared scooters and bikes. “What a dock does is mimic that idea of a public transit station,” she said. “It creates a predictable way for people to engage with this mode.”

Lyft, which owns Motivate, the country’s largest docked bikeshare operator, also rents dockless scooters in several cities, and is demoing its own parking racks outside a barbershop at SXSW and at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., this week. Lyft’s racks don’t offer charging, and aren’t formally deployed in any city yet. But they create an opportunity for Lyft to talk about the benefits with interested parties, Samponaro said.

They also offer a way to address the safety concerns and injury lawsuits that have beset the nascent industry. The Washington Post reported this week that an 87-year-old woman in Santa Monica is considering suing Lyft after suffering a fall over a wayward scooter lying in the sidewalk. Some cities, including Santa Monica, Seattle, and Austin, have already tried other ways to contain the devices, such as spray-painted sidewalk “bird cages” and coned-off street “corrals.”

It’s too soon to say if such cosmetic interventions are quantifiably helping with safety and clutter, but anecdotally, at least, “they’re not hurting,” said Francie Stefan, Santa Monica’s acting chief mobility officer. “It’s helpful to have some sense of order and give people an idea of where the devices belong.”

Not everyone believes that the future of shared mobility involves re-embracing the dock. A parking and charging station might sound simple enough to install, Stefan said, but the devil may be in the details: Can solar batteries hold enough charge to keep scooters in action? Who will pay for the electrical bills if not, once the stations are wired into the street?And others believe that additional costs of adding all these smart charging docks will make the already-dodgy road to profitability for the scooter industry even more challenging to negotiate. “Docks look pretty, but they’re really costly and hard to adapt,” said Dawn Goodyear, a community engagement specialist for the dockless mobility startup VeoRide. “The ridership won’t be there if we go back the way we came.”
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About the Author

Laura Bliss

Laura Bliss  @mslaurabliss  Feed

Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.

 

Texting or chatting while walking, the new phone addiction you need to stop

James Wanzala , Reporter for the Standard Group (StandardMedia, StandardDigital News)
20th Jan 2019 00:00:00 GMT +0300

You might have been hit by a person busy chatting or texting as he or she walked along the street. Or, you might have seen someone hitting a pole, a transparent window or falling into a pool of water while using the phone while walking. This is the new smartphone addiction that experts are warning is costing people their lives or leaving them with injuries. Experts now say distracted walking is a growing problem around the globe, as people of all ages become more dependent on electronic devices for social and professional engagements. The advent of smartphones that comes with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has accelerated this problem. Multitasking is common, and can be dangerous if one is not careful. “The phone distracts you from minding your safety while walking. We used to call out the youth for this behaviour but now it spans nearly all age groups,” says Sam Wambugu, an information specialist. Authorities in some countries have come up with laws to curb texting or chatting while walking. In South Australia for instance, the Under the Road Traffic Act states that a person “must not walk without due care or attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road,” lest they face a $105 (Sh10,500) fine.

Banned texting

In 2012, Fort Lee, a municipality in New Jersey, banned texting while walking. Violations come with an $85 (Sh8,500) ticket. Back home, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) traffic rules only prohibit a driver from using a phone while driving, which sets him back Sh2,000. According to a study published in 2012 by researchers from New York’s Stony Brook University, 60 per cent of people texting while walking veered off their walking path. Over a decade’s time, texting and walking has caused more than 11,100 injuries. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian deaths numbered 5,376 — and were the only group of road users whose fatality numbers increased. A report from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons also revealed that 78 per cent of American adults believe that distracted walking is a serious issue — but only 29 per cent owned up to doing it themselves. Our brains have evolved to focus attention on primarily one task at a time, a phenomenon psychologists refer to as inattention blindness. Wambugu adds: “People get carried away while texting and miss their flight at the airport because they become oblivious of their surroundings despite repeated calls to board the plane. Some people text while riding on a fast-moving boda boda, possibly another reason for increased road accidents.” Sociologist Kiemo Karatu agrees that chatting and texting while walking is a life risk and a solution must be found. “A lot of us are oblivious of the dangers we are exposing ourselves to. Inability to know when to stop doing two things at the same time is the challenge,” says Karatu. He proposes creating awareness probably through posters on the dangers of using one’s phone while walking. The Washington DC-based Safe Kids Worldwide organisation report dubbed Walking Safely, A Report to the Nation in 2012 found that pedestrian deaths among teens aged 15 to 19 now account for about 50 per cent of pedestrian fatalities. The study discovered that one in five high school students were found crossing the street distracted either by texting, playing video games or listening to music. “We suspect one cause of this disturbing trend is distraction; since the increase in teen injuries seems to correlate with the prevalence of cell phone use, both among walkers and drivers,” says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. Just like children at school are taught how to wash their hands regularly to stay healthy, Wambugu says healthy use of the now ubiquitous mobile phones and other hand held devices may be an important addition.