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Scooters now sharing the delivery lane

An URB-E electric folding bicycle is on display

An URB-E electric folding bicycle is on display FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

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The delivery services industry is starting to think small. It’s getting away from big delivery trucks and finding more compact vehicles to get around.

One California-based company, Urb-E, makes battery-powered scooters that fold up when they’re not being used. It lately created a tow hitch for a trailer that can haul 350 pounds and collapse to the size of a carry-on bag.

Urb-E calls itself a foldable mobility company. (Sue Carpenter)

“Some of them will deploy directly from the warehouse, some will deploy from a truck,“ said co-founder Peter Lee.

Amazon is using this Urb-E system in New York City, and UPS is using it in Los Angeles.

“That couldn’t be a more welcome development,” said Seleta Reynolds, the general manager of the LA Department of Transportation.

Downtown LA streets don’t have a lot of space, Reynolds noted, meaning when delivery trucks double park, they block cars and bicycle lanes, creating traffic and safety risks. In LA, scooters are supposed to ride in bike lanes, where available.

Increasing demand for faster deliveries is part of what’s driving companies to experiment.

“The smaller those vehicles are — if they’re able to use bike lanes, park on a sidewalk or in a corner of an alley — that allows a lot more flexibility than a big truck on the curb,” said Juan Matute, deputy director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies.

The move to electric scooters comes as the U.S. parcel delivery service industry is growing. In 2019, IBISWorld says it increased 5%, to $109 billion. And many of those services are looking for different ways to get around. Will additional scooters just mean more congestion on sidewalks and bike lanes?

“There just needs to be a higher level of respect from all deliveries,” said Eli Akira Kaufman, executive director of the nonprofit LA County Bicycle Coalition. “Whether it’s on a scooter, on a bike, or in a van, that lane needs to be respected as a free-flowing space.”

Those free-flowing spaces keep expanding. Amazon has talked about using drones for deliveries. In certain markets UPS already uses snowmobiles, horse-drawn carriages, even gondolas.

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