“Dockless” Should Not Equal “Brainless”

For better or for worse (for worse, in my opinion), the local jurisdictions around here have all started pilot programs for various forms of “dockless” mobility device sharing–bikes (some e-bikes) and e-scooters.  The dockless bicycle program seems to be much less popular than the e-scooters, at least based on the numbers I’ve seen.  Unlike the initial bikeshare program, which has designated docks scattered throughout the area, you pick these up wherever they’ve been left, and just park them at the end of your trip.

Now, in theory, this is an OK idea, especially in this urban environment where the bus system is not all that great for actually getting you from point A to point B in a timely manner without making you go through all sorts of gyrations to make it work with your schedule.  Rather than needing to procure your own bicycle or other vehicle, you pick one up close by, pay via app for the short trip, and leave it parked when you get to your destination so another person can take it.  These companies seem to have found a niche to fill, so good on them.

That said, the execution has been lacking.  Just because the scooter or bike is dockless, doesn’t mean the users get to be brainless.  Shortly after the scooter programs got the green light, I started finding them parked really poorly, obstructing the bike path or sidewalks.  The first offense was last summer, when one was parked on the sidewalk at an intersection in such a way as to block BOTH directions at the cross walk.  You absolutely had to detour around it.  Later on this fall, I ran across a scooter parked in the middle of the span of the 14th street bicycle/pedestrian bridge, blocking at least half of the route.  This happened not just once, but several times.  It’s as if the person using the scooter ran out of time on his or her payment, and just left it there rather than paying to go another half mile.

Things have actually gotten worse recently.  In the last four weeks, I’ve had to physically move three scooters out of the way so I could get around.  Two were blocking the curb cut to a very busy cross walk.  Just this morning, I had to move one off the sidewalk so we could walk to church without detouring onto the very soggy strip of lawn between the road and the sidewalk.

In addition to this lack of consideration, I’m seeing more and more people riding these scooters (which are motorized, remember), recklessly through areas where there are lots of tourists.  You almost never see a helmet (even though they can get up to some significant speeds), and I’m seeing more and more scooters carrying two or more people.  Again, just because they don’t need to think about where to park, it’s like many of the users forget to use their brains at all.

Sure, there are many responsible users of this program out there, and it fills an obvious need.  That said, before the pilot goes permanent, I would like to see the companies step up the enforcement of their own published guidelines:  do not block sidewalks when parking, wear a helmet, and ride responsibly.  If the companies do not/cannot/won’t enforce, then it would be nice to see a few fines levied for obstructing a public thoroughfare or endangering others to drive home the point.