The Scooters Are Coming

The Scooters Are Coming
Photo: Fiona Goodall / Stringer, Getty Images

If you’re one of those curmudgeonly types who was reveling in the absence of a fleet of flaming, dockless scooters on New York City streets up until this point, there’s bad news: The scooters are coming, and they’ll be in the U.S. by summer.

On Wednesday, New York City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that Bird, Lime and Veo had all been accepted as the first guinea pig participants in its fledgling e-scooter pilot. The three companies are expected to begin offering rides in the Bronx by early summer 2021, and will each be stocked with 1,000 electric scooters for customers to tool around on.

“After a competitive selection process, Bird, Lime and Veo unveil e-scooter models and pricing plans that will allow most rides for under $US5 ($6),” NYC DOT said in a statement. “New bicycle lanes planned for pilot zone over the next two years will also enhance e-scooter mobility and safety.”

Similar to dockless scooter and bikeshare programs, dockless e-scooters allow riders to locate, unlock and pay for their ride through the use of a smartphone app. According to the DOT, many e-scooter systems “utilise designated parking corrals to organise vehicles, reduce footpath clutter, and ensure a clear right-of-way.”

While Bird and Lime are already nationally-recognised brands with scooter access available in cities across the U.S., the Chicago-based company VeoRide is a smaller operation, and offers both standing and sit-down versions of its scooters.

Although the inaugural program is only expected to last for a year, DOT will have the option to renew the participating companies’ licenses at the end of that term. The announcement follows a competitive request permit proposal selection process that the DOT opened up in October and, before that, a series of significant regulatory and infrastructure hurdles that e-scooter manufacturers had to clear before throttle-based electric vehicles were finally legalised in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget agreement. Up until that point, New York City had remained a stubborn holdout against the advent of e-bikes and e-scooters, despite a vocal contingent of micromobility advocates that had argued that such vehicles were invaluable to certain groups, including the city’s fleet of immigrant delivery riders and anyone lacking easy access to public transit options.

Interestingly, the pilot’s rules bar all three participating companies from using “gig” labour to charge and retool the scooters, and also prevent them from forcing customers to agree to terms of service that include binding arbitration or class action waiver provisions.

Although the Bird, Lime and VeoRide pilot will be exclusively limited to the Bronx this summer, there are already plans in motion to expand access to other underserved transit deserts and allow participating companies to increase their number of scooters in operation to up to 2,000 apiece if everything goes well.