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COVID-19

E-scooters and bikes rebound as COVID-19 crisis keeps on rolling

Scott Tong Sep 2, 2020
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"There’s this really intense pressure on these e-scooter companies to address these transit deserts," says transportation consultant Courtney Ehrlichman. Above, a commuter rides an electric scooter in Los Angeles in June. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

E-scooters and bikes rebound as COVID-19 crisis keeps on rolling

Scott Tong Sep 2, 2020
Heard on:
"There’s this really intense pressure on these e-scooter companies to address these transit deserts," says transportation consultant Courtney Ehrlichman. Above, a commuter rides an electric scooter in Los Angeles in June. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
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For those of you who are out and about again, have you seen those electric scooters back in the neighborhood, zipping past a little too fast?

In many cities, scooter and bike shares are returning pretty quickly. The fancy term for this is micromobility. And a new report suggests people are finding new ways to use these services to get out and about, providing new opportunities for these relatively new industries.

Americans’ use of shared bikes and scooters before the pandemic was growing 60% a year. Then in March, we all stopped moving.

But by this summer, New York City’s bike-share program saw ridership nose ahead of July 2019. The National Association of City Transportation Officials has a new report suggesting micromobility is back.

“You’re seeing people use it to do their everyday errands. You’re seeing people use these bike-share systems at different times of day than we saw before,” said Alex Engel with the NACTO. “So people are using them to see friends and take trips recreationally as well.”

Some local governments are offering discounts to essential workers who are hopping on the shared bikes, too. The e-scooter business was already struggling financially when the pandemic came, said David Zipper, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“The leading players — Lime, Bird and Spin — removed their scooters from the vast majority of cities,” Zipper said. “And there was a lot of concern about whether scooters could exist in the future.”

Then people started emerging from their lockdowns. They really wanted alternatives to buses and subways. And scooters scooted back.

“People may not be going to and from school the way they used to,” Zipper said. “It’s going to create some opportunities as well as some needs for these micromobility companies to rethink the role they’re going to play.”

So there’s opportunity, uncertainty and responsibility.

Courtney Ehrlichman, a transportation consultant, said the next push is to encourage micromobility companies to serve neighborhoods without good links to public transportation. 

“There’s this really intense pressure on these e-scooter companies to address these transit deserts,” Ehrlichman said.

First, though, those scooter companies will probably want to figure out how to make money.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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