Like locusts descending on a field of corn, swarms of tiny scooters struck awe and fear into the hearts of city dwellers across the globe. The small, whirring machines seemed to portend a changing transportation landscape.
But not in Pittsburgh. The city fended off what Forbes, Wired, and others called “the year of the scooter” in 2018 by asking the purveyors of electric, personal vehicles to hold off bringing their products to town.
Compared to places such as Santa Monica, Calif. or Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh’s flirtation with the world of microtransit has been restrained: the city’s bike share program, Healthy Ride, and Scoobi, a ride-on scooter-share, are the only existing options.
That will soon change.
In April, the city asked companies to self-organize and propose a “mobility demonstration,” said Karina Ricks, director of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.
“The other thing that we’re really asking them to do is experiment with us,” she said. “We don't want this to be done to us. We want this to be done with us.”
The department will review the proposals and expects to select companies in the near future, Ricks said. She said she hopes the city and the companies will be able to create a true network of options that work with one another and with existing assets such as Port Authority and Healthy Ride.
“A really important part of this is … actually figuring out what are real problems that need to be solved, where are the real gaps that are hindering people's opportunity for success,” she said. “Instead of just kind of shiny objects that may or may not be needed.”
New options could include electric assist bikes or scooters, or pods capable of carrying several seated passengers. Ricks is less interested in modes that accommodate only one, able-bodied person.
“We do need to make sure that we keep our eye on inclusive mobility,” she said, noting that a scooter doesn’t help a parent safely cart their kids around, nor does it lend itself to an elderly person or someone in a power wheelchair.
The companies, once announced, will be expected to share data with the city as officials develop new policies around how the transit options can be used and where.