Lafayette is now the site of a scooter skirmish

A Bird scooter parked Downtown. The company has deployed 100 scooters in Lafayette. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: First, Bird flew in 100 scooters overnight. Now, Lime has rolled 25 of its custom-made scooters into town this week, making Lafayette the latest skirmish in 2018’s dockless scooter war.

Dockless electric scooters are the rage of 2018. At least among urbanists and alternative transportation enthusiasts. And the trend has really only just become a thing this year. Bird alone has reported 10 million rides in 2018 and exploded from five cities in May 2018 to more than 100 worldwide in the last couple months. Lime, Bird’s chief competitor, operates in 60 cities domestically and internationally. The overnight success has come with growing pains, particularly for the often unwitting cities that host the scooters.

Lime, like Bird, was something of a surprise arrival. Both companies are sort of notorious for that. Kate Durio, an assistant to the mayor-president, says Lime had contacted city-parish government, but the arrival was nonetheless earlier than expected. Overnight drop offs have triggered contention between the companies and local governments, with some locales ousting the scooters as quickly as possible. See Lafayette, Ind., where the government is impounding the scooters to get them off the streets. The tow-truck company hired has called it a “nightmare.” New Orleans reportedly blocked Lime’s entry.

“They were a surprise but a viable solution to moving around the central areas of Lafayette,” Durio told me last week, when it was just Bird around. “But we still have to figure out how we work with them in a safe and responsible manner.”

So these things are just a nuisance? Sure, to some. But proponents argue kinks are normal to any advance in how people get around. A key plank of the pitch is that scooter sharing addresses what policy-makers call the last mile problem, the long distance between public transit routes and homes that makes travel by bus or train inconvenient. Depending on which research you cite, around 40 percent of all car trips happen within a three-mile radius. The thinking is, if people use scooters for those trips, it can relieve congestion and reduce carbon emissions.

LCG is taking a cautious but open-minded approach. The administration is working with city-parish attorneys to craft guidelines for other rideshare companies that want to enter the market. An interim agreement with Bird is in the works while the details of a future ordinance are worked out. That legislation would target specific issues raised locally and nationally, i.e. whether there is a minimum or maximum number of scooters required or where they can be parked. Bird is working with LCG to add stands, responding to complaints of the scooters laying about.

Does this make sense in Lafayette, though? A sensible question. Lafayette transit ridership is low, generating only about 2,500 trips per day. Durio says Bird was attracted to Lafayette because it has three relatively dense districts within a three-mile radius: Downtown, UL’s campus and the Oil Center. Scooters could chip away at vehicle trips between the three. Bird will share its scooter data with LCG to track usage anonymously; theoretically we should be able to see just how true its claims are. The company wrapped up a week of free rides last Friday, so the novelty may wear off. We’ll know in the coming weeks if the scooters have any traction and could make a measurable impact.

“In some ways Lafayette is starving for alternative transportation,” Durio tells me. “It actually is probably better positioned than places like Austin or Seattle, because quite frankly, there’s more of an open market.”

What we’re watching. How many scooters end up in the Vermilion and how long it takes for someone to make a website about it. That’s happening in Portland, Ore.