Scooter mania isn’t just persisting in Denver, it’s accelerating, new numbers released by the city show.
While more of the electric vehicles and their e-bike cousins zip along the city’s streets, bike lanes and sidewalks, other Colorado communities are putting on the brakes. Both Aspen and Boulder have temporarily banned commercial dockless-vehicle businesses within their boundaries while they study how they work and consider regulations.
“We just want to make sure the commercial operators are using best practices,” Boulder Mayor Pro Tem Sam Weaver said of the moratorium he voted for.
Scooter companies, meanwhile, are updating their fleets with new models aimed at providing more comfortable rides and attracting more attention in a city that could play a pivotal role in future expansion plans.
“Denver is a very important market for us, which is why we’re pleased to partner closely with the community,” Danny Simon, COO of Razor USA, said in an email to The Denver Post last week. “We are always evaluating new markets for Razor Share, and we’re particularly interested in expanding around our existing markets.”
Denver launched its one-year pilot program for permitting dockless scooters and bikes in August after operators Lime and Bird launched their services in ambush fashion last summer. Among the program’s stated goals is to help the city significantly cut down on commuter trips made by people riding alone in their cars. It runs through July 31, by which point public works officials will decide if they want the program to continue.
In the first six months of the pilot program, electric scooters and bikes owned by six companies combined to travel more than 1 million miles in Denver. Riders used their phones to unlock the vehicles more than 5,100 times on average each day, according to a midpoint report released by the city in February.
According to new numbers released by public works officials Thursday, the vehicles have now traveled more than 2.78 million miles. People have unlocked them more than 1.95 million times. That’s an average of more than 6,000 times per day since Aug. 1.
There has been a sharp increase in miles ridden since the start of February — about 12,000 per day, up from about 5,600 miles per day over the six months prior. That spike coincides with significantly larger fleets of vehicles on the streets.
The city launched a dynamic fleet sizing policy in February that rewards operators that can demonstrate their vehicles are being ridden at least three times per day. Since then, operators Bird, Lime and Lyft have seen their scooter fleets grow to 550 from 350. Razor has 350 machines deployed in the city, up from 100, and Spin has 350, up from 115. Uber has doubled the size of its Jump electric bike fleet with 500 now on the road, offsetting Lime pulling its 250 dockless bikes out of the market.
In total, there are 2,850 dockless vehicles approved for Denver’s streets, up from 1,765 five months ago. On July 1, the city will consider whether or not operators can grow their fleets by another 25 percent.
With proliferation comes an increased risk of negative side effects such as crashes. Specific numbers around accidents and injuries related to scooter and e-bike use weren’t available last week, but a detailed look at the issue is coming, city official said.
“Safety is our priority, and we continue to monitor injuries closely during our pilot,” public works spokeswoman Heather Burke-Bellile said in an email. “Denver Public Works has been working with Denver Department of Public Health & Environment to look into injuries in the Denver Health system.”
Denver Health emergency medical doctor Eric Lavonas said he has seen “a steady drumbeat of people injured in scooter accidents” in his hospital’s emergency room since the vehicles hit the streets. Injuries range from scraped knees to serious brain trauma.
Much of what Lavonas has seen can be attributed to people not wearing helmets, riding while intoxicated or engaging in other unsafe behaviors, he said. But he also worries that at the speeds the scooters travel — around 15 mph — there just isn’t a particularly safe place for them to go.
“There’s a problem driving them on streets because it’s a really bad mismatch with cars, and there is a problem driving them on the sidewalk because of its bad mix with pedestrians,” Lavonas said. “Bike lanes seem like a good fit but also combine kind of the worst features of both.”
Lavonas said he has not treated any pedestrians who have been hit by scooters or heard of any accidents like that. City regulations dictate scooters traveling on the sidewalk cannot exceed 6 mph. They are supposed to stick to bike lanes and low-speed roads whenever possible, where they are allowed to travel up to 30 mph.
After launching in the market with upright scooters similar to those of their competitors, Razor recently replaced its crimson-colored Denver fleet with a new model. Its EcoSmart scooters have a seat, broad base and larger wheels designed to provide a more stable ride accessible to more users. They even have a basket so riders can carry things that don’t fit in a purse or backpack. They’ve been popular, according to Simon, averaging as many as eight rides per day at times.
Lyft announced earlier this month that it was rolling out a new scooter model built specifically for its scooter share business. Upgraded features include thicker, air-filled wheels to better absorb bumps in the sidewalk or road and a wider base to better accommodate riders’ feet. They’re also supposed to be more durable so they can stand up to rigors that can include severe weather and abuse at the hands of riders and, occasionally, nonriders alike. The entire Denver fleet will be replaced with the new models in the coming weeks.
“Denver was the first city we launched scooters in ever,” Lyft spokeswoman Darcy Yee said. “We’re excited to encourage scooter sharing, which is the whole purpose of the new models.”
After Boulder passed its moratorium last month, Aspen took a similar step last week. The six-month pause should give the mountain town time to develop a regulatory framework around dockless mobility. Concerns voiced by council members there include safety, vandalism of the machines, impact on local business and how the vehicles might clog public rights-of-way, the Aspen Times reported.
Boulder’s Weaver also has concerns about sidewalks clogged with scooters, potentially blocking the paths of pedestrians and people using wheelchairs. He thinks the best path forward might be having micro mobility companies who want to operate in the city explain how they will manage their presence on streets and sidewalks.
“What will their practices be that will make the negative impacts as small as possible?” he asked.
Aurora’s experience with micro mobility was a mixed bag, city spokeswoman Julie Patterson said. Three companies — Lime, Spin and Ofo — operated fleets of traditional bicycles for varying lengths of time between October 2017 and July 2018.
It was a struggle to get users to park the bikes in appropriate places and to ensure the fleets were being properly monitored by their operators, Patterson said. But the city saw increased ridership every month from October through December 2017. High schools in the city reported the bikes were popular with students and helped more kids get to school on time.
All three companies have ceased operating in Aurora, each for their own reasons, Patterson said. Lime specifically cited the financial challenges of operating a geographically limited bike share operation in a larger metro area.
But Aurora isn’t giving up on the idea. It recently updated its regulations to clear the way for motorized scooters and bikes. The city has even reached out to some operators, Patterson said. The bikes were serving some compelling city goals: increasing mobility for a variety of people and providing a means to get to and from mass transit stops.
“The whole point was to give people in the city another way to get around,” she said.