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An influx of dockless mobility technologiesfrom eBikes to eScootershas presented business hubs across the world with a pressing mobility challenge: how can cities evolve their infrastructures to accommodate new technologies while helping their communities thrive? 

If you’ve stepped foot on the streets of a bustling business district like Austin, Texas in the past few months, you’ve almost inevitably had to step over a discarded eScooter strewn across a sidewalk. The ability to be picked up and dropped off practically anywhere is one of the greatest benefits—but also biggest flaws—of dockless mobility technologies. 

When the first fleets of eScooters and eBikes descended onto the streets of Austin, their presence was both exciting and alarming. Users raved about the convenience of a transportation option primed for short distances that is available at practically every corner in central Austin. However, residents also began to complain about the abundance of devices—especially those crowding pedestrian spaces.  

During South by Southwest, the digital conversation around dockless mobility technologies surged, in part due to viral photos of scooters piled high on downtown’s sixth street. The mound of dockless vehicles was architected by Austin’s own police department—which was evidently fed up with the hordes of scooters carelessly abandoned in pedestrian and vehicle passageways. 

autonomous vehicle grid

Above photo by John Anderson (from “Faster than Sound What Sparked Joy at SXSW Music)

https://www.austinchronicle.com/music/2019-03-22/faster-than-sound-what-sparked-joy-at-sxsw-music/  

Since the assimilation of eScooters and eBikes into the local mobility model, Austin’s city government has been scrambling to determine the most logical, fair, and realistic measures to maximize societal benefits while reducing social, environmental, and safety risks. However, beyond the initial regulations, which establish basic (but difficult to enforce) safety guidelines, the city has not enacted any rules that significantly restrict eScooter use. 

https://www.statesman.com/news/20190114/what-are-rules-for-riding-scooter-in-austin-anyway 

Earlier this year, the University of Texas at Austin introduced regulations to reduce the concentrated effects of dockless mobility technologies that the campus experiences. First, the university worked with scooter providers to create a geofence, which reduces scooter speeds to 8mph immediately upon entering campus bounds. In addition, the school has designated eScooter parking spaces and threatens a $150 impound fee if scooters are left in unapproved locations like sidewalks, streets, courtyards, and landscaping. 

https://parking.utexas.edu/electric-scooters-0 

As more players enter the micro-mobility space, they increasingly require solutions for their charging and staging needs. Many eScooter companies have turned to the gig economy for charging, paying contracted workers between $5 and $20 to recharge dockless devices. This increasingly competitive—and sometimes hostile—practice is questionably sustainable; chargers are not making consistent profits and vehicles transporting eScooters to and from charging locations are only further contributing to congestion. The task of harboring eScooters and bikes is already weighing on finite physical infrastructures like sidewalks; as micro-mobility technologies emerge and seek locations to move and dock, cities will inevitably find their existing infrastructures ill-equipped to sustain the growth. Community complaints about the presence, safety risks, and general misuse of scooters are expected to perpetuate as well; so how can the City of Austin and other cities proactively address this mobility challenge? 

Many municipalities are developing and implementing smart city initiatives in partnership with private entities serving those communities. These publicprivate partnerships are taking an ecosystem approach to bridge the gaps between citizens, companies, and governments with technology. Smart cities connecting all these different entities in mutually-beneficial partnerships in pursuit of societal benefits like safety and security, economic development, environmental welfare, and community connectivity. Applying this philosophy to the new micro-mobility ecosystem, there is an opportunity for traditional parking assets to offer a convenient docking and charging space for recent entrants like eScooters—and a new source of revenue for garage owners and operators. 

The centrality and accessibility of garages position them as ideal locations for scooters, bikes, and alternative vehicles to dock and charge. Cities seeking to create a more efficient transportation ecosystem should turn to technology to upgrade outdated infrastructures into modern connectivity points. By pairing parking asset owners and operators with companies like Bird and Lime, cities can create cooperative business relationships that work towards municipal goals and deliver societal good through an optimal experience for all stakeholders.

Byline: Neil Golson, EVP of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships, neil.golson@flashparking.com

FlashParking is a leader in parking and mobility solutions that address some of the most complex transportation problems facing urban societies. Founded in 2011 with a simple mission to perfect the parking experience at valet and parking access and revenue control (PARCS) operations, FlashParking has grown to serve thousands of site-level operations, enterprise portfolios, and smart cities nationwide. By establishing future-ready infrastructures, delivering unrivaled cloud intelligence, and designing world-class customer experiences, FlashParking is powering the evolution from traditional parking assets to next-generation mobility hubs. 

For more information on the FlashMobilityHub—a future-ready solution for cities, owners, and operators to evolve into the new mobility ecosystem—www.flashparking.com/mobility/

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