Electric scooters have posed a problem outside many storefronts and heavily trafficked buildings since they began appearing in dozens of cities across the country last year.
Unevenly parked and prone to tipping over, the devices clutter entrances, turn off potential customers and give off a general whiff of unnecessary chaos.
Now two U.S. cities, Washington and Ann Arbor, Mich., will be the setting for a 60-day pilot program that is being billed as a way to bring order to that chaos.
The evolving plan — being launched by the electric scooter company Spin and a California start-up called Swiftmile — involves installing dozens of electric docking stations on private property as a way to charge e-scooters, give riders a designated place to park their devices and draw more foot traffic to particular locations.
Benjamin Fong, Spin’s director of business development, said 40 docking stations built by Swiftmile will be placed in Washington over the summer and 10 will be placed in Ann Arbor. For now, he said, the solar-powered stations will be compatible only with scooters from Spin, a San Francisco-based scooter-sharing company focused on the “last mile” transportation market.
Ann Arbor has about 200 Spin scooters on its streets and Washington has about 650, Fong said.
“We’re looking at partnering with all sorts of private property owners, including apartment buildings, office buildings, retail locations, restaurants and universities,” Fong said. “The value is that this is a way of driving traffic to these locations, and it’s an amenity for building residents and employees because it will help people get around.”
“It’s also a win for cities because it helps reduce the clutter of scooters on the street, and it’s a win for customers because it helps them find a scooter,” he added.
The dangers associated with riding electric scooters in crowded urban areas are obvious. But within months of the scooters’ appearance in more than 100 cities worldwide, public officials, doctors and scooter company employees were also warning of the dangers the devices pose to pedestrians. In January, Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, told The Washington Post that the devices are nightmares for the visually impaired and those who get around via wheelchair.
While able-bodied people can usually maneuver around e-scooters left on the sidewalk, the elderly and disabled can have a much harder time, he said.
Colin Roche, Swiftmile’s co-founder, said his charging stations — which can accommodate any brand of e-scooter — are ideal for the kind of pedestrian-congested areas where the devices are often discarded, such as bus and subway stations.
“Last year was the crazy rollout, which was very polarizing,” Roche said. “Some people loved them and some people hated them, but the problems that made people hate them are actually fixable."
“We create order out of the chaos,” he added.
Roche said Swiftmile’s charging stations take about three hours to juice a scooter with a completely uncharged battery but require much less time when a device is moderately charged. Once a parked scooter hits a designated battery level, the device will reappear on riders’ apps, he said.
“These are solar-powered stations, and that means they will be 100 percent renewable power transportation,” Roche added.
Spin has scooters in 32 U.S. cities and campuses — including Washington, Denver, Detroit, Charlotte and Coral Gables, Fla. The devices — which cost $1 to rent and 15 cents per minute to operate — are also available to students on campus at University of Michigan, as well as at Oklahoma State University and a few others.
Last year, Ford Motor announced that it had purchased Spin.
The $100 million purchase means Ford joins companies such as Alphabet, Uber and Lyft — all of which have poured millions into the upstart e-scooter revolution.
“We think scooters are genuinely wonderful solutions, but they’re not the solution for everything,” said Dan Winston, a general manager overseeing Spin’s Washington-area operations. “They’re part of a strong transportation network and can fill gaps and complement other modes of getting around.”
“The Swiftmile partnership is going to increase clarity about parking, and our team can work with them to figure out best practices for serving these stations,” he added.