Lime and Bird have placed electric powered scooters all over Boise, from the downtown core to congested roadways like Vista Avenue and Fairview Avenue. It’s simple to set up and start riding (if you have a smart phone), and when you’re done you can leave it for someone else to pick up later. (Note of importance: please park the scooters responsibly; do not leave them in sidewalks or other obstructive and dangerous areas.)
But…do e-scooters have the capability to make smart mobility easier and more attractive by connecting people with their destinations? Most people in the United States are comfortable walking less than a ¼ mile to or from destinations, including public transit stops. But what about when a person is further than a comfortable distance? Only 33% of Ada County households are ¼ mile or less from a transit stop. The remaining 67% of households experience what transportation planners have long struggled with: the “first/last mile” problem.
What is the first/last mile problem? It’s pretty simple – residential areas are usually far from destinations and public transit doesn’t take us exactly where we need to go. So, often the first or last mile of the trip presents a problem. If it’s not convenient or comfortable to access a smart mode of transportation – a bus stop, park and ride lot, or safe sidewalks and bike facilities – transportation options are limited, usually to driving alone in a personal vehicle. Ridehailing apps like Uber and Lyft can help with accessibility, but don’t reduce the number of vehicles or miles traveled on our already congested roadways. Enter: e-scooters?
With the arrival of nearly 500 e-scooters in Boise, it begs the question…could e-scooters provide a first/last mile solution? Could they help reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled in our community? Let’s take a look.
Commuteride staff experimented with Lime and Bird scooters as a transportation option to get around downtown. Here’s what happened:
After downloading the Lime and Bird apps and getting set up, we started our trip from the Broadway Avenue/Front Street area to Boise City Hall on Capitol Boulevard/Main Street. We wanted to test a typical midday trip someone working downtown might make for a meeting. Off we went!
Riding the scooters was easy and fast. We arrived at City Hall in seven minutes, including waiting at crosswalks. The total route was ¾ mile and cost $2.40. Looking around, I felt confident I’d find another scooter to get back across town after our meeting. The map showed tons of Birds in walking distance!
Uh oh! After the meeting, all the Bird scooters around us were experiencing a connectivity issue. This could be problematic if the Bird scooter was my only viable transportation option. Luckily, we both found nearby Lime scooters to use (or I could have walked, if time allowed). The return trip took nine minutes and cost $1.35.
So, was using an e-scooter a longer and more expensive trip than if we had driven the ¾ mile to our meeting? We tested that, too… We compared the time and cost of driving vs. using the scooter.
Takeaways from our experiment:
First/Last Mile…Maybe: Bird and Lime scooters have the potential to provide a first/last mile solution, however – reliability is key. There is no guarantee a scooter will be nearby when you need it. If your first/last mile trip is manageable on foot, keep the scooter option in your back pocket for when it works but be prepared to hoof it.
Boost Downtown Economy: Scooters may not be a reliable commute option, but they sure do make getting around faster, which might pay off well for the city’s local economy. Several users we talked to were able to expand their lunch and shopping destination options because of the availability of the scooters. Feel like sushi but it’s 10 blocks away and you’ve got to be back for a meeting in 30 minutes? Not a problem if you can snag a scooter!
Park Once: Short scooter trips are great for those who don’t drive/want to drive during their workday. Our friends at the City of Boise have coined the phrase “park once.” The park once goal is to ensure that visitors don’t need a car once they arrive at their destination because there are other safe and comfortable options, such as walking, biking, transit, or – scooters. Case in point: we talked to a BSU student who interns three days a week downtown and uses the scooters to travel between campus and work, thus only having to park once.