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Are Bird and Lime a long-term solution or just a nuisance?

While walking in the city over the summer, I began to notice that scooter ownership had become very popular among intown residents. Of course, I was way off in my observation…sort of.

As most of you probably know by now, Bird and Lime electric scooters are now woven into the fabric of our city. Seemingly overnight, these two companies have become to scooter commuting what Uber and Lyft are to ridesharing.

The key difference is that while Uber and Lyft compete with traditional methods of public transportation (e.g. buses, trains, taxis), Bird and Lime aim to be the perfect complement to these services. In fact, the term for this complement is “last mile.” This is meant for destinations that are too close to wait for an Uber but too far to walk.

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While Bird and Lime seem to have filled the void left in the “last mile” stage of the carless commute, one thing is clear: this solution is far from perfect. Because they are simply part of traffic, you may not notice the presence of ridesharing vehicles. However, it’s hard to miss the dockless scooters zipping up and down sidewalks.

Of course, the use of scooters in this manner poses many safety risks to pedestrians and riders alike. Collisions are always a possibility, not to mention that motorized scooters aren’t even legally allowed on sidewalks.

If you’ve been on the BeltLine recently, you’ve undoubtedly seen these scooters zipping around there too—which is also illegal. However, until the Atlanta City Council chooses to act on this scooter phenomenon, law enforcement appears to be looking the other way.

Another safety related problem is riders leaving scooters in the middle of sidewalks and blocking egresses. This can be more than just a simple annoyance for foot travelers. For example, pedestrians who depend on wheelchairs could find it more difficult to bypass scooters left behind on narrow sidewalks.

In an effort to deter riders from doing this, both Bird and Lime apps make you take a picture of your scooter in its drop-off location before the meter stops running. In reality, there may be little they can do to actually stop this from happening. Thus, the age-old honor system seems to be the policy.

The system of discovering these Bird and Lime scooters isn’t perfect either. Finding a scooter that actually works can sometimes become time-consuming in and of itself. Not using the map service provided by the two apps can result in time wasted by finding scooters that are either damaged or have low batteries.

Once a scooter has been located, the reasons for Bird and Lime’s popularity become obvious: ease of use and convenience. Simply unlock by scanning a QR code and your ride begins. When you arrive at your destination, just lock it and make sure the scooter isn’t blocking any public pathways.

The pricing is also straightforward. Bird and Lime charge $1 to start and each additional minute of use is 15 cents.

So, while not being a perfect solution to commuting deficiencies in Atlanta, electric scooters are providing some “last mile” relief to a city served by a measly 38 heavy rail stations. In a city with a metro population approaching 6 million, the only long-term answer is expanding MARTA’s heavy rail system. However, until that happens, Bird and Lime are providing some necessary outside-the-box thinking.

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