You may have heard that many cities are taking a more ‘head-on’ approach to regulating free-floating e-scooter companies, such as requiring operators to be part of a permit program or even the provision of helmets. One of the requirements of San Francisco’s program was that all four operators in the city (Jump, Lime, Scoot and Spin) had to develop their own pilot programs to make shared micromobility more accessible to people with disabilities.
Despite the recent limelight on the issue of e-scooter safety, with a peer-reviewed study in the JAMA Surgery medical journal showing the incidence rate of head trauma amongst e-scooter hospitalizations is more than twice that of bicycle hospitalizations  – the demand for micromobility from people with disabilities is certainly still there. According to Lime , after surveying 18,000 customers in 80 countries, 8% of current users have either a temporary or permanent disability; ranging from a broken bone to autoimmune diseases which make standing tiring.
In setting the requirements for the pilot programs, the city of San Francisco has taken a relatively hands-off approach and did not specify any particular vehicle-type or service model. The only firm requirement appears to be that the scooter operators must consult with people with disabilities in designing and iterating their schemes. As a result, four quite unique pilot programs utilizing scooters with very different form factors (from two-wheel to three-wheel, seated to unseated), service models (from door-to-door delivery and pickup to free-floating) and payment schemes have emerged. The city’s transport agency provides a table with a great summary of all four pilot programs.
The need to make micromobility inclusive and accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities, should indeed be a priority for cities looking to regulate scooter companies. Accessibility-friendly requirements already exist for other forms of public transport as well as in public and commercial buildings. So, if the micromobility sector wants to be taken seriously as a transportation revolution or step-change, they will need to be able to show that they can offer inclusive solutions too. This will only become even more of an issue as greater numbers of cities adopt e-scooter specific regulations and permit systems, giving them the tools to require scooter operators to take social considerations such as accessibility, amongst other things, into account. Not to mention that it would bad business sense to ignore 15% of your potential customer base, as this is the proportion of the world population estimated by the World Bank as experiencing some form of disability.
The pilot programs operating in San Francisco are also interesting on another level because they show a greater deal of experimentation from the traditional e-scooter business model. For example, in the Lime pilot, the scooters must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance, but a drop-off and pickup service is provided to get the scooter to a customer’s door. The scooters are also hired out for 24-hour increments at a cost of $32 per day (with low-income discounts available). This is in contrast to Jump and Spin which utilize vendors around the city for pickups and drop-offs. It would be fascinating to see if these service model innovations from the pilot programs could eventually prove to be successful enough to influence how the rest of the scooter fleet operates. For example, maybe all scooters could eventually come with a fixed-price 24-hour hire option, or the free-floating model could be hybridized with vendor locations for pickup/drop-offs (possibly paired with a discounted fee).
Written by Bobby Chen, RISE Viktoria.
1. 2020-01-17. Adaptive Scooters for People with Disabilities.
2. 2020-01-16. E-scooter study results: better use a helmet.