Charlotte's Scooters Are Making A Comeback
Growing up, scooters were used for after-school adventures with friends or going on Sunday evening excursions with the family. But today, they’re redefining how we get around parts of Charlotte.
Electric scooters are taking the sidewalks and bike lanes near uptown as a new form of transportation. The pilot program was introduced to the city in mid-2018, and the city enacted permanent rules and a permitting program in early 2019.
But the pandemic put a halt to the plan in 2020. E-scooter trips were down 67% between January and May compared with the same period a year earlier. Now, e-scooter usage is on the rise again, up 61% compared to 2020, according to figures from the city.
Last weekend in South End, flashes of green, orange or white zoomed around. These colors represent the three scooter companies: Lime, Spin and Bird. Most riders were in pairs of two, using the scooters to make it to their dinner reservations or to ride along the Rail Trail.
A visitor to Charlotte, Danielle Casan of Denver, Colorado, said she was excited to see Charlotte also had them as an option.
“It’s easier to get around in the downtown area on your scooter compared to a car or even a bike,” she said. “Parking is expensive in any city. COVID increased the prices of car services, but scooters have stayed the same, so it’s more affordable.”
Because e-scooters are still new, they currently only play a small part in Charlotte’s transportation. Each scooter company is permitted to have 50 to 400 e-scooters in the city.
“One of the primary hurdles to people using scooters today is the lack of them outside of downtown in the adjacent neighborhoods because of that restrictive cap,” said Shannon Binns, founder of Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit organization that focuses on advancing regional sustainability through smart growth. He spoke to Transit Time on the phone as he biked to work.
“Scooters represent a form of transportation that is healthier, more efficient, less expensive and less environmentally damaging than driving cars,” he said. “Scooters have zero pollution.”
Binns also said there’s an inequity among scooter and vehicle sharing companies on the local level because of the capacity limit. Vehicle services, like Uber and Lyft, are not limited to how many cars can be in the city. Scooter companies also have to prove that each scooter is being used regularly, which is not a requirement for these vehicle companies.
Another hurdle is safety. Charlotte was originally designed for four-wheeled vehicles, not e-scooters and other small, non-car ways of getting around that planners refer to as “micro-mobility” options. However, the streets are slowly adapting to accommodate those choices more easily.
In 2015, Sustain petitioned the city along with partnering neighborhoods for protected bike lanes — lanes separated by a barrier — on Parkwood Avenue, from Davidson Street to The Plaza in Plaza-Midwood:
In 2016, they petitioned the city again for another protected bike lane on Sixth Street, in uptown and the west end of Fifth Street:
It’s called a “road diet.” The city is converting a four-lane road into three lanes with protected bike lanes in both directions. Construction is currently underway and set to be complete by the end of the year. Binns said these lanes will offer safer mobility for not just bike and e-scooter riders but drivers and pedestrians, too.
Sustain Charlotte also advocated for rules to make scooters easily accessible to everyone.
The rules of the road include a 15 mph speed limit and a helmet requirement for riders 16 years or younger. Electric scooters can be operated in bike lanes and on most sidewalks in Charlotte, excluding a section in uptown bound by Church Street, Stonewall Street, College Street and Seventh Street.
Additionally, e-scooters can be parked anywhere along sidewalks as long as they are out of the way, saving uptown visitors from finding and paying for parking.
Scooters: How They Work
Each scooter company has its own app you can download to your phone. From there, you can enter a payment method and enable Location Services to see what scooters are available near you. Once you find one, you scan the QR code on the scooter’s handlebars and start your ride.
When you’re ready to end your ride, you end it on the app and take a picture of your scooter to confirm you parked it at an authorized location. You can park your scooter along any sidewalk as long as it’s out of the way.
Each company also has its own rates: Lime and Bird are both $1 to start and 15 cents per minute. Spin also requires a $1 base fee and a by-the-minute rate from 15 cents to 33 cents depending on the area.
E-scooters are charged at night by a contract workforce that picks up scooters with a depleted battery after 9 p.m. The dead scooters are recharged and ready to go by 6 a.m.
Transit Time is produced in partnership among WFAE, The Charlotte Ledger and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. Subscribe here. Other affiliated Charlotte newsletters and podcasts include: The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter and Ways of Life newsletter (obituaries), available from The Charlotte Ledger; WFAE's Inside Politics newsletter; and The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute newsletter and the Future Charlotte podcast from the Urban Institute.