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Better Shared eScooters, eBikes, and eMopeds

These are a breath of fresh air in our current urban mobility deserts. They need city leadership to realize their full benefits to residents

Photo of John M Smart
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Michigan Central Station

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Shared e-Scooter, e-Bike, and e-Moped Networks (Lime, Bird, Lyft, Uber, etc.) are one of the bright spots in urban mobility deserts today, but they are still poorly deployed and designed. Detroit and specifically, the community around MCS could be leaders in showing how to use these shared networks better, and to set up conditions to encourage entrepreneurial innovation in e-mobility. 

Many big US cities now have shared e-Scooters. They are laying around all over our downtowns. A smaller fraction (including Detroit, thankfully) also have shared e-Bikes, which a much larger group of folks find easy to ride. Only a handful have e-Mopeds (street legal, like Vespas), which are the most useful for long-range commuting, and no US city anywhere presently offers a shared e-Moped *network* for residents who have to make longer commutes to work, school, or for other living essentials. 

Let's talk about e-Scooters and e-Bikes first. We'll consider e-Mopeds after that.

For e-Scooters and e-Bikes, consider what we could do:

1.Specific high-visibility pick up / drop off  points could be designated in the MCS area, so e-Scooters and e-Bikes aren't just left randomly everywhere, which most people really dislike. 

2. e-Scooters can FOLD nearly flat, which means they can stored in racks at street corners, making them much less obtrusive. Starting now, companies can start to pay the city to add *electricity* to those racks, corner by corner, so the scooters and e-bikes are always charged. It may take 10-15 years to get a dense, city-wide charging grid, but we can start now. If Park City, Utah can make public buses FREE for use, to get more people out of cars, Detroit can provide free charging of eScooters and eBikes, or at least build a pay network for private companies and residents to use.

3. Folded e-Scooters can be placed in the trunks of cars, always charged, with plenty of room left for luggage. Inverters can cheaply be added to any car to keep the e-Scooters always charged, ready for use. Lyft and Uber could be encouraged to offer "Lyft+", a car that will pick you up that has 1-2 folded scooters in its trunk, with 90% of the room still left for luggage. If you need a scooter at your destination, if you get stuck in traffic, or if it just gets too expensive, you can get out and take an e-scooter the rest of the way. The Lyft drivers can pick up and trickle charge a dead eScooter on the street to replace the ones taken by passengers.

4. Classes in the laws and etiquette of using these could be offered by the city, with ride credits for those who attend. People should know when it is OK to use them on the sidewalk (those dangerous choke points where there is no street room for slow speed transport) and the rules of sidewalk use, and fines for improper sidewalk use. Whenever the city hasn't painted bike lanes yet, people should be able to use sidewalks, but only at very slow speeds when passing walkers. I'd love to see Detroit back this common sense up with a local ordinance.

5. Detroit could even require two obvious modes for shared e-bikes and e-scooters, Sidewalk and Street. Users would have their speed *governed* in Sidewalk mode (for example, 10 mph and less) so they never have to wonder if they are going too fast and might get ticketed. They should also know about tickets for reckless use. A few city billboards would be nice to see in the city, to go over those points. Later on, once 5G emerges, these machines will be smart enough to know when they are on sidewalks, and govern their own speeds there.

6. e-bikes with baskets on the front for groceries are much more useful for residents who can't or don't want to balance on a scooter. Those should be made as plentiful as the scooters. The city should consider subsidizing, via preferential licensing, new e-bike designs that are smaller, and that have baskets on the back as well as front for extra groceries. There are a few of those models out now, and they stack much more closely than the first gen e-bikes with their dedicated stalls, which were too expensive and take up too much sidewalk space.

7.The only shared e-scooter/e-bike companies allowed to operate in Detroit could be required to display their charge status on the outside, with LEDs visible from a distance, and for those without their reading glasses. It is disrespectful of people's time, and poor user design, to force residents to have to to walk up to and unlock one of these devices with their phones and find out the batteries are dead or nearly dead, as many are at certain times of day.

8. e-bikes and scooters that have removable batteries are smarter, environmentally, than the models we see today. A special key, and a software code, that unlocks the battery allows the people who recharge these to not have to take the whole bike or scooter back to recharge them, which is very inefficient and is often done dangerously, but lets them just swap in a charged battery, for all the ones that need charging. If the city required battery swappability, to get a permit to operate in the city, companies would respond, it would show real urban leadership. Some of those companies would also let their customers swap in their own batteries when needed. Many of us would carry a spare in our purses and backpacks, to charge our phones and use in our transportation, if there was a city network that we could use it with.

Now let's talk about e-Mopeds. 

A company called Gogoro, based in Taiwan, has developed a $3,000 e-Moped that goes 55 mph and has a 50 mile range. It's incredibly affordable, and they have a version with a trunk and side panniers that can store groceries for a family, allowing people to use these as car replacements. 

The most innovative thing Gogoro did, however, was to create Battery Swap Vending Machines all across Taiwan. There are 750 of them, in Gas Stations, next to Grocery Stores, anywhere cars and motorcycles go. You can walk up to the vending machine, use your phone, and swap both of your two e-Moped batteries (2 lbs each) for charged ones, for a small fee.

This shared battery network innovation eliminated "Range Anxiety", the fear people have that their batteries will die on them when they are far from home, and they will be stuck for hours next to a charging station before they can get back. Two companies in Taiwan have now copied Gogoro, so there are three separate systems out there. They have no government leadership on standards, so all three use different battery sizes, at present.

Gogoro has yet to launch in the US (they are going to Japan next) in part because of the unfriendly regulatory climate here. They need to be INVITED to launch in a US city, by some future thinking mayor, and given incentives to set up their battery swap network at public locations. What's more, any other company that wants to store e-Mopeds for hourly rent, on city street corners, should also be required to be useable with the same battery network that has already been set up for residents.

Students and young folks in particular love e-Mopeds, they work as both owned and rented vehicles, and the more they are available, the better city commuting will be. Snow tires make them work well in the winter as well.

Eventually, we can get motorcycle lanes in our cities, and we can get a change to Michigan law to allow urban lane splitting, when cars are going 20 mph or slower. That will allow all the e-Mopeds to get up to the front of the lights, at every stoplight, and get across the city about 40% faster in rush hour traffic.

That's what we do in California, where lane-splitting is legal. It would be great to see Michigan get lane-splitting, but I don't expect it to come until there are a lot more e-Mopeds running around in Michigan cities.

These may seem like small things, but they could really improve local mobility for a resident who needs to do a one to fifty mile point-to-point round trip, on demand, and has no quick, dependable and affordable options at present.

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Photo of Peter Deppe

John, my name is Peter Deppe and I am the Founder of KUHMUTE. We are a v2g (vehicle to grid) service for keeping Micromobility devices (scooters, ebikes and eskateboards) charged and organized with our smart charging hubs. If you would like to talk more offline my email is peter@kuhmute.com. We are launching a pilot in Flint, MI very soon and will be applying to organize a pilot with this City:One program as well.

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