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Editorial: Let’s embrace the scooters

July 6, 2018

The extreme reactions to the hundreds of rent-by-the-minute scooters that two companies have dropped into Indianapolis have been fascinating to watch.

The electric-powered scooters are clearly a hit with a substantial number of people downtown and in nearby neighborhoods. You can’t go anywhere in the Mile Square without seeing the scooters zipping by or parked—often haphazardly—along the sidewalk.

So it’s easy to see why a number of residents and some businesses are downright annoyed.

But tension between modes of transportation is nothing new.

Motorcyclists complain about drivers who don’t treat them like equals on the road. Drivers get frustrated with cyclists who also share the road but are difficult to see and sometimes unpredictable. Cyclists get frustrated with pedestrians and drivers who don’t pay enough attention. And pedestrians are frustrated with, well, all of the above.

So it’s no surprise that there are concerns about the scooters and their riders, most of whom are trying out the tiny motorized units for the first time. It’s not clear whether scooters should be on the sidewalks or in bike lanes or on specialty paths like the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. There are no real rules regarding the proper right-of-way and no sort of mutual understanding that dictates inevitable conflicts.

These are largely problems that come with something new—and they are worth solving.

IBJ supports efforts by the City-County Council to do just that, with regulations that call for responsible stewardship by the companies that have introduced scooters to Indy and responsible use by riders.

But we urge city officials not to go too far and create a system that makes it difficult for companies like Bird and Lime to do business. We appreciate the ingenuity of these firms and their ability to tap into what consumers want. And we respect those consumers who clearly find the scooters fill a gap in transportation or entertainment—or both.

In fact, we’d like to see the city take extra steps to help companies like this succeed. Perhaps the city could work with area businesses to create a system of parking stations for the scooters and the shared bikes that will almost inevitably follow. City officials could help Lime and Bird develop charging stations—maybe as part of an agreement with Indianapolis Power & Light, which is already charging customers for some upgrades it made to accommodate BlueIndy vehicle charging stations.

We call on Bird, Lime and other companies with similar business models to reach out to the city and area businesses to develop agreements that help minimize the impact of the scooters on our sidewalks and roadways. And we don’t think it would be a bad idea for the companies to reduce the scooters’ maximum speed to make them more conducive for travel on sidewalks or in bike lanes.

With a little cooperation and some open minds, IBJ is confident the scooter-sharing companies are a great addition to the city. They add to downtown’s vibrancy and could prove to be an interesting last-mile option for the city’s public transportation system. Let’s make them work.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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