UK has long been known as a bike-friendly campus, but recently, students have increasingly turned to a different mode of transportation – scooters.
Scooters, both manual and electric, are staking their claim in a landscape dominated by pedestrians and bikers. This growing national market has led many cities to introduce dockless scooter ride sharing services, and they may be coming to Lexington sooner than you think.
The Lexington Area Metro Planning Organization, the City of Lexington and the University of Kentucky have all collaborated on an initiative to bring scooter sharing services to campus and the community, and over the summer, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council passed an ordinance that allows companies to apply for licenses to bring scooters to the public.
Scott Thompson, Senior Transportation Planner for the Lexington Area Metro Planning Organization, said that so far five companies – Spin, Bird, Lime, Veo and Gotcha – have applied for licenses. Depending on how quickly these companies meet the licensing and parking permit requirements, scooters could arrive in Lexington in as soon as a couple of weeks, according to Thompson.
Thompson said that interest in a scooter sharing service started soon after Lexington introduced its bike sharing program.
“Some of the companies that were involved – actually the only company that’s involved on our end – said they were going to stop supporting bikes and were moving to scooters and we said ‘well, your agreement is not to operate scooters, it’s to operate bike shares for one year and we’re going to hold you to that,” said Thompson.
And when some companies went rogue and started launching scooters in Lexington without the proper permits, Thompson said the MPO made it clear that those scooters would be impounded. MPO then began thinking about what shared mobility would look like across the board.
“Our approach was look, they’re going to try and come here anyway, so we had two options. We either ban them, which we didn’t really think that was an appropriate reaction, or we set up some parameters we want them work within to try to protect our public right of way and the health and safety of our cities,” said Thompson.
Thompson said that the MPO sees sharing services as a mobility options issue that includes bikes and e-bikes.
“Folks want to say scooters over and over and over, but scooters have only been around about 18 months, maybe two years, and they may be gone as quickly as they came,” said Thompson.
By creating a policy for shared mobility options, Thompson said the MPO is hoping to avoid some of the common scooter problems that have plagued other cities.
“It’s a bit of a moving target,” said Thompson. “We are going to do a kind of slow roll out. We’ll let one company go out a time and we may not even issue five licenses.”
Bike sharing will still have a place in the city, and some of Lexington’s existing companies will be adding e-bikes to their arsenals, according to Thompson. The MPO is encouraging companies to continue offering bike shares by not capping the number of bikes a company can deploy on the streets, whereas scooters will be capped at 400 a company.
“The way we wrote the ordinance, we’re actually charging a fee for each scooter trip that the companies pay to the city that we split with the university, and we’re not charging that fee on bikes and e-bikes because we wanted the companies that offer them in their fleet to bring them,” said Thompson.
Sandra Broadus, Alternative Transportation Manager for UK Transportation Services, said that UK students accounted for 64 percent of all bike share rides during the first year of Spin’s tenure in Lexington.
Thompson said that the MPO worked very closely with UK Transportation Services and that UK “had representation through the whole process” of developing the scooter-sharing policy, including a role on the advisory committee.
Thompson guesses that scooter companies will target on-campus users first and then spreading to the rest of the city.
“I think it’s safe to say that young professionals and college students are the target market for all of these shared mobility options initially,” said Thompson.
UK students have already embraced the scooter trend. Both electric and kick-powered scooters are common on campus, and those who ride them say having a scooter can be both convenient and fun.
“It’s not really hard to walk to and from class, I just thought it would be more fun, and it is,” said UK freshman Bobby McClellan.
McClellan has only had his Gotrax e-scooter for a week, but sees other scooter riders often.
“I’ve seen this exact model a few times, I think at least three or four times, and I see people with regular scooters quite often,” said McClellan.
Sophomore Matthew J. Musey uses a traditional scooter to travel across campus.
“I feel like this is easier than a skateboard,” Musey said. “With a scooter, if someone’s walking toward me on a tight sidewalk, I can just like hop off and push it in front of me.”
“I haven’t ridden a scooter in almost 10 years, but I remember I had one scooter; it was a Razor and it was all blue, and I would always do tricks on it and stuff and ride with one leg over the handlebar, so this is like nostalgia. It’s really fun to me actually.”
Broadus said that since many cities have opened scooter sharing services, personal scooters have also become a more feasible transportation option.
“Because of their sudden proliferation, the cost to own a personal e-scooter has dropped significantly due to the high production rates. If students come to UK from cities where these e-scooters already exist, they are familiar with how to operate them and therefore may choose to purchase one when coming to campus since Lexington does not yet have a shared e-scooter service,” said Broadus.
McClellan thinks scooters will continue to grow in popularity.
“The reason I got this was because I saw other people using them, so I feel like the same effect will happen to others.”
But as scooters become more popular, they’ll have to share the road with pedestrians and bikers.
Broadus said that campus regulations for scooters are similar to that of bikers.
“There are regulations for operating an e-scooter on campus and throughout Lexington,” said Broadus. “E-scooters are not permitted to operate on sidewalks in Lexington, but they may operate on the road or in bike lanes. However, they are allowed to operate on campus sidewalks at UK.”