Nobody wants to feel like Philly is losing the race to have all the modern amenities of a big city. We deserve protected bike lanes and a reliable transit system to be proud of.
That certainly does not mean we need to put blinders on and allow dockless bikes and scooters to be dumped here in the name of progress.
Dockless companies operate on an ask-for-forgiveness-over-permission model, taking advantage of a city's lack of regulations. Philadelphia City Council seems to be taking precautionary steps to protect us from an onslaught of dockless scooters as seen in cities like Louisville and Indianapolis.
Perhaps City Council learned a lesson from the Wild West-style atmosphere rideshare companies Lyft and Uber brought to the city. Uber recently revealed their own fleet of dockless scooters.
The dockless scooters can be left anywhere and the interpretation of that freedom spawned an Instagram account depicting many unique drop-off locations that will leave you scratching your head as well as acts of senseless destruction. Images of scooters lit on fire and defecated on are just a few of the terrible things people do to dockless bikes and scooters. This begs the question, is humanity ready for this level of responsibility? Seems like we aren't.
There's also the tremendous waste of materials when these companies decide to pull out of town like China-based company Ofo did with its fleet of dockless bikes after a short lived pilot in Camden came to an untimely end.
Ofo rolled out to the greatest fanfare with the mayor even getting on one of the bikes for an inaugural ride. Bicycle advocates lined up to sing Ofo's praise. It seemed like the right move for a city on the rise, but only a couple months after the fleet arrived, Ofo is trying to donate their bikes wherever they can and scrapping the rest of their fleet as fast as possible. This isn't unique to bikes. Enormous piles of scrapped dockless scooters are well documented on the internet.
The scooters and bikes aren't always where their app says they are either. I tried to find an Ofo bike earlier this summer, and despite the app saying there was one right in front of me, there was not. The only Ofo bike I found was behind a police building on North 10th Street. It had been impounded by Camden County Police for an unknown reason. The Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia described similar scenarios in a blog post on July 23.
These modes of transportation are sometimes labeled a "last mile" option meaning they complete the final leg of a commute between a transit stop and destination. However, rollouts of dockless scooters generally take place in city centers and adjacent areas, leaving the outlying neighborhoods, which would likely benefit the most from inexpensive transit options, without immediate access. It seems unlikely that a dockless scooter company would choose to roll out its fleet around Olney or Frankford Transportation Centers over Center City.
Dockless scooters do nothing to progress the mayor's Vision Zero Plan or his campaign proposal to have 30 miles of protected bike lanes as there is no requirement for the city or company to upgrade infrastructure. Good luck dodging those monster craters on a flimsy electric scooter.
Expect a rise of inexperienced riders on the street without proper safety equipment since there's no training required to operate a dockless scooter. It's only a matter of time until someone rides one onto I-95.
Unless you actively carry a helmet around with you, chances are you aren't going to have it on you when you decide to spontaneously jump on a scooter as these companies suggest you do. Riding without a helmet greatly reduces your chances of survival during a crash.
Philadelphia needs to step back from the dockless gimmick and reinvest in building safe means of travel for pedestrians and cyclists. Sadly, many people can't even park cars in legal spots. Our city has a booming population of bicycle riders and bike owners, hungry for safe streets and protected bike lanes. It's not easy to admit that City Council needs to thoroughly review and potentially regulate dockless bikes and scooters, but they do, and now they have more power to do so.
Ptah Gabrie is a freelance journalist who's written for City Paper, Billy Penn, and the Spirit of the Riverwards. He works for an environmental non-profit and promotes sustainable transportation in the Philadelphia region.