The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
It was 107 degrees in Tucson last week, 10 degrees above average for September. Walking or riding a bike on a street exacerbates the effect of intense heat radiating off concrete and asphalt. There’s little space on the street between the sidewalk and curb for shade trees as streets have been widened again and again to make room for parking and more lanes for cars.
Vehicles race through intersections at such high speeds that no person trying to cross the street at the crosswalks believes the painted white lines will keep them safe or ensure their right of way.
And we are worried about e-scooters.
E-scooters are a low-speed, emissions-free (minus the electricity it takes to keep them charged, which can be offset), low-cost and popular transportation mode that fills the gaps of our existing transit network and have been shown to replace car trips.
A recent report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) analyzed results from all shared micro mobility systems in the country (including station-based, dockless bike share, and scooter share) and found that in 2018 there were 84 million trips on shared micro mobility systems, more than double the number of trips in 2017.
Of those 84 million trips, 36.5 million trips were on station-based bike share systems, like Tugo, but there were 38.5 million e-scooter trips.
Scooter sharing is scaling at rates faster than almost any other recent transportation innovation, outpacing even popular ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft.
What these data clearly show is that lots of people want an alternative to having to drive and park their cars for many of their daily trips.
This is a good thing, not something Tucsonans should fear.
In a recent opinion by the Arizona Daily Star’s Edward Celaya (“What does Tucson gain from e-scooters? Control, money – and headaches, literally”), he amplifies many of the worst fears with unfounded claims about Tucson’s e-scooter pilot program.
Celaya rightly points out that e-scooter sharing systems are convenient for users, but not for businesses or pedestrians trying to keep their entryways clear, overlooking the fact that, like bike share, e-scooter riders are also pedestrians and customers.
As many business owners recognize, an increase in foot traffic leads to increased sales. Know what increases foot traffic? Getting people out of cars and walking, even for short distances.
Celaya highlights concerns shared by leaders in our community about irresponsible behavior by e-scooter users, referencing “hold my beer” moments bound to happen by patrons who’ve enjoyed themselves too much in our entertainment districts.
Behind these statements is an unspoken assumption that people driving cars have priority over everyone else trying to enjoy themselves or get where they need to go safely.
Anyone who slips up, falls in a track or acts foolishly and is hit by a car is inherently responsible, not the person driving a 2,000-pound machine. We see this same narrative every day in our local news outlets.
For scooters, bikes and even walking to be restricted, policed and shamed while people in cars continue to emit pollutants, contribute to global warming, commit daily traffic violence — increasingly with fatal outcomes — and expect even more public space designated for their convenience is worrisome to anyone paying attention to the weather outside, the grim forecasts for our future, and those who have grown numb to the daily toll of traffic crashes.
No, the scooter is not our enemy, how we prioritize space on our streets is our real problem.