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Big Auto lobbied for our roads. Could ‘Big Scooter’ do the same for bike paths?

As US policy makers begin crafting infrastructure bills, electric scooter companies are lobbying for bike lanes, wider streets and micromobility tax credits.

The US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced last week that an infrastructure plan expected soon from President Joe Biden will offer a “once in a century” opportunity to remake transportation in the country, where cars and highways will no longer be prioritised above all else. E-scooter companies are jumping on this opportunity to make their voices heard.

One key area where lobbying efforts are being focused is to include e-scooters in several bills that currently only apply to bikes and e-bikes. For example, the E-BIKE, Act (H.R. 1019) was recently introduced to encourage the use of e-bikes through a consumer tax credit. A spokesperson from shared-scooter company Bird said they want to see that legislation broadened to include e-scooters. Another bill is the Bikeshare Transit Act (H.R. 382), which would make bike- and scooter-share systems eligible for federal transit dollars. Apart from Bird, almost all of the other major shared-scooter companies such as Lime, Lyft and Spin have also been very actively lobbying. Nico Probst, director of government relations at Lime, said the conversations so far with members of Congress about incorporating micro-mobility have been encouraging and something that likely wouldn’t have happened a few years ago.

“It really tells you how far the industry and how quickly the industry has come, where scooters and e-bikes are really a topic of conversation for a broader infrastructure package,” Probst said.

Federal funding for bike lanes and widened streets is also a priority for the micromobility companies. Legislation such as the Complete Streets Act would allow local entities to apply for funding to build projects including sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, and bus stops.

The scooter companies also want to piggy-back off infrastructure packages targeted at EV charging infrastructure, such as the Biden administration’s pledge to install more than 500,000 electric vehicle chargers by 2030. Spin’s spokesperson, Brian No, says that ensuring that local governments have the option of adding support to building micro-mobility hubs, or charging stations for scooters, is a focus. For instance, tax credits given to those installing EV charger stations could also be applied to those installing micro-mobility charging stations.

“We want to make sure that we’re not just talking about motor vehicles,” No said. “We want to be brought into the fold of ongoing considerations, discussions and conversations around the need to bolster the electrification of our nation.”

Personal Comment:

Love it or hate it, lobbying is a reality when it comes to the way our cities are designed and what kind of infrastructure gets built. However, cycling lobbies have rarely had the resources to match the clout of the big auto-lobbies – which has often been credited with being a significant driver behind the (tax-payer funded) growth of the road and highway system, at the expense of infrastructure for other travel modalities. The fact we haven’t had powerful cycling lobbies doing a similar thing with cycling lanes, except in a very few examples, is understandable since there’s a lot more money at stake in automobiles. But the rise of the e-scooter industry backed by deep pockets from the startup ecosystem could at last pull off what the cycling world has rarely been able to do – get heard where the big decisions are being made. And thanks to the fact that e-scooters benefit from the same kind of policies and infrastructure that bikes and e-bikes do, this could be a win-win for the micromobility sector as a whole. More cycle lanes, wider streets, subsidies for purchases and subscriptions of micromobility devices… this could be the circuit breaker that the US needs to start walking away from the grip that the personal car holds over its cities.

It will also be interesting to see if the unlikely hero of this narrative, the e-scooter companies, could flex its lobbying muscles in a similar way over here in Europe. It was only last month that some of Europe’s biggest names in micromobilty (Bird, Bolt, Dott, FreeNow, Lime, TIER, Voi and Wind) formed the ‘Micromobility for Europe’ coalition with the aim to “address a gap in the representation of the industry in the transport and mobility policy discussions”. Here’s hoping they will find success at least when it comes to more bike lanes.

Written by Bobby Chen,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Elektromobilitet)