ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's springtime in Washington, D.C. And around NPR's headquarters, there is more popping up than just flowers. All over the sidewalks there are shared bicycles, scooters, electric bikes. Lots of little companies are popping up to do this kind of transportation in major cities in the U.S., and bigger companies are buying some of these smaller companies.
In a moment, we're going to talk with a reporter for Curbed about what's going on. First we're going to try out some of these little vehicles. Our first stop is a scooter company called Bird. And there's one not far from here. We're going to head that way.
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SHAPIRO: OK, scooter's here. It's black. It says Bird. We're going to use the app to unlock it.
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SHAPIRO: I'm going to take this one for a ride around the block and try not to kill myself.
What makes it go?
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How'd it go?
SHAPIRO: I did not fall. I did get some strange looks. I did not feel like I was going to die. It was a nice little ride around the block.
Next up, Capital Bikeshare. This is a program that's been in Washington for a few years and lots of other cities, too. The bikes all go into docking stations, so there isn't the same problem with sidewalk clutter.
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SHAPIRO: It's a beautiful day for a bike ride.
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SHAPIRO: OK, our last ride of this little tour is an electric scooter company called LimeBike.
We are in a rundown housing complex. I can't find the Lime scooter. The app says there's a Lime scooter right here, but it is nowhere to be seen. So I guess this is one of the kinks to be worked out in this new technology. We're going to head back to the studio and talk with Patrick Sisson, a journalist who's been writing about this for the website Curbed.
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SHAPIRO: Hi, Patrick.
PATRICK SISSON: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: We just heard a little bit of what it's like here in Washington, D.C. You're in California. There has been a lot of drama in San Francisco and Santa Monica. Tell us what's going on there.
SISSON: Yeah. It's what some have called scootergeddon (ph). In San Francisco especially, people have been complaining quite a bit about these scooters, that they're blocking the right of way. San Francisco has issued a lot of declarations and passed laws that are looking for permitting of the scooters. They're actually even asking scooter riders to take photos of where they park their scooters to make sure they're not blocking the right of way. In Santa Monica, the company Bird settled for $300,000 with the city after being fined for safety violations and blocking the right of way.
SHAPIRO: People are clearly annoyed. There's a lot of #ScootersBehavingBadly on Twitter.
SISSON: Yeah, exactly. And this is also spreading to cities like Washington, D.C., and Austin where people are having the same complaints.
SHAPIRO: Well, speaking of Austin, in Austin, LimeBike deployed 200 scooters before the company had reached an agreement about rules with the city. And so I'm wondering whether local governments are ready to deal with these new technologies or if they're just playing catch-up in one city after another.
SISSON: Well, in a lot of ways they are. And it sort of follows the same blueprint we saw with Uber and Lyft where tech companies are looking to provide transportation and mobility solutions, but they're asking for forgiveness after the fact instead of permission before the fact.
SHAPIRO: So while you've got the inconvenience, the awkwardness, the frustration with local cities, is there also a problem that's being solved here? If somebody takes the train into work or takes the bus, that last mile-first mile problem of getting to where you're going from the public transportation hub sounds like a good use for these things.
SISSON: Yeah. I mean, to be totally fair to the tech companies, they're on to something. I mean, there's a great desire for people to have car-free last mile transportation solutions. I remember speaking to someone in Santa Monica city government that says, you know, we really like the idea of having these around. It's just there's existing transportation infrastructure. There's safety issues. We've just got to make sure it's properly regulated and operating the way it should be.
SHAPIRO: We're talking so much about scooters. D.C. is also cluttered with dockless bikes. There are several different brands out there. Are dockless bikes part of this equation, or are they already being eclipsed by scooters?
SISSON: I think they're all part of the same equation. It's just a matter of urban mobility solutions, trying to get people around the city without cars and sort of solving that last mile problem.
SHAPIRO: Are there any cities that are coming up with really creative solutions to these problems you're talking about?
SISSON: There's a couple trials going on that I think are kind of interesting. Seattle's been trialing a sort of dockless bike parking space that maybe is showing what could be done in scooters and other situations. You're also seeing in San Francisco that Lyft is trialing a drop-off and pickup system where they would designate certain parts of the neighborhood for dropping off and picking up riders. There's a lot going on. And just, you know, I think we're still sort of in early days in terms of how this regulation is going to work.
SHAPIRO: Patrick Sisson is a senior reporter for the website Curbed covering cities, transportation and architecture. Thanks so much.
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