My View | Denise Dunbar: Scooters are not for commuters

My View | Denise Dunbar: Scooters are not for commuters

My final 2019 missive on scooters deals with the data, and it demonstrates that scooters are primarily being joy-ridden and are not serving as a meaningful form of transportation in Alexandria, which is the major justification given by city officials for allowing them in the city.

In addition, some of the data that city staff has presented to council has been misleading, while other data unfavorable to a second pilot has been buried in the ap- pendix of the report. The data presented to council has been cherry picked and packaged in the most
favorable way possible. Let’s examine this first, as I recognize this is a serious allegation.

In staff’s presentation to council and in the executive summary of their evaluation report, it is stated that around 50 percent of scooter riders said they would have driven if scooters were not available. This is technically true, though it was actually 46 percent, not 50. That’s a sizeable round up.

More importantly, what staff did not present to council or put in the executive summary is that more respondents said they would have walked if scooters were not available than would have driven.

Fully 49.8 percent said they would have walked without scooters, and another 12.73 percent said they would have bicycled. That’s 63 percent of scooter users who said walking or biking would have replaced their scooter rides compared to 46 percent who would have driven their personal vehicles.

This information was buried on page 46 of the report, in the appendix. Is council even aware of these numbers?

The data is also difficult to interpret because respondents were asked to list their top two alternative transportation options to scooters, so the data does not add up to 100 percent.

But think about what this data reveals: We are encouraging people to give up walking and biking, which is healthy, by subsidizing a program in which residents, visitors and their young children ride motorized scooters without helmets. And a sizeable majority of respondents say they would have walked or biked without scooters.

In another section of the appendix, respondents reported frequency of scooter use. Fully 71 percent of respondents said they have ridden once or twice total or up to a few times a month, meaning more than 2/3 of scooter riders use them sporadically.

Only 6 percent of respondents reported riding scooters daily – and this number is probably high as heavy users of a product are more likely to respond than one-time, visiting joyriders.

Again, this information is buried in the report’s Appendix A, while it’s unmentioned in the staff presentation to council or in the body of the report on the pilot program. Interested readers have to pour over the raw data in the appendix to find data that’s unfavorable to the program.

Two other interesting pieces of data from the report’s Appendices A and B:

The change most respondents want to see in a Phase II pilot is “enforcement of traffic rules for e-scooter riders,” with 52 percent citing this as their top priority.

It’s worth noting that although proposed changes to city code could enable police to enforce scooter rules, there are no plans in place detailing how or with what frequency this would happen.

In Appendix B, 53 percent of respondents said they think the Phase I pilot was either generally or very unsuccessful, while only 43 percent said the Phase I pilot was either generally or very successful (another 4 percent had no opinion).

This information was not part of the staff presentation or the report. My question remains: why would the city approve a second pilot for a program that’s dangerous, detracts from public health by encouraging people to ride in the streets rather than walk or bike and has no meaningful enforcement mechanism?

The data shows scooters are not being used in a significant way by commuters, which is the only logical justification for continuing the program. Since Alexandria’s leaders have repeatedly said their decisions are data driven, here’s a clear chance to prove that.

Instead of a second pilot, council should be discussing how to penalize riders and companies that bring scooters into Alexandria.

The writer is publisher and executive editor of the Alexandria Times.