The only convenient choice for most trips in most California communities is the automobile. For door-to-door access, public buses and trains can’t compete. This car-dependent system forces Californians to incur extremely high expenses and miserable traffic as drivers. It leads to severe pollution, bad health outcomes, and dangerous streets.
People in disadvantaged communities, disproportionately Black and brown people, endure the worst consequences. They live on the most dangerous streets, with the worst pollution, and suffer the most severe economic burden of automobile dependence, sacrificing a better quality of life to fill their gas tank and maintain their automobile.
California’s shared micromobility isn’t perfect, but it’s headed in the right direction
Shared micromobility can transform this. High-quality electric bikes can connect people to their destinations quickly and conveniently. Combined with public transit, they can make even long trips fast and easy. If priced like public transit, they will provide affordable and accessible public transportation that is a realistic alternative to the car for most people.
The shared bikes and scooters we see today are just the beginning. These lightweight, affordable devices, combined with public transit, are the future of equitable mobility.
However, there is much that is not right about our shared bike and scooter systems:
- They’re too expensive.
- They are not safe enough.
- They are too often improperly parked, causing a hazard to pedestrians.
- All too often, they don’t serve the neighborhoods most in need of additional transportation options.
California must address these problems to expand shared micromobility and provide Californians with convenient mobility to replace their car trips with bike and transit trips. CalBike is committed to this expansion of shared micromobility as essential to our mission of creating equitable communities where bicycling enables people to live a healthy and joyful life.
Unfortunately, California is poised to kill this vision.
Bike-share is under threat
A bill in the Assembly, AB 371, attempts to support pedestrians injured by users of shared bikes and scooters by requiring the system operators — transit agencies, nonprofits, and private corporations alike — to carry an insurance policy to cover damages caused by their users regardless of the fault of the operator. It is unprecedented insurance that will make shared micromobility prohibitively expensive and penalize the very transportation option that can help reduce automobile use and the severe injuries and health damage caused by our over-reliance on cars. It does nothing to address the real problems of shared micromobility and, worse, makes it impossible to address the issue of affordability.
CalBike’s vision for equitable bike sharing systems
California can implement equitable shared micromobility, and at CalBike, we’re working toward that goal. Here are steps to create bike and scooter sharing systems that work for everyone.
1. Subsidize shared micromobility like public transit.
Incorporating shared bikes and scooters into the transit fare can help people access rapid and frequent bus and train lines or serve independently as affordable door-to-door transportation that is more convenient than public transit. Equitable shared micromobility systems will increase transit ridership, reduce automobile use, and reduce the economic burden imposed on low-income Californians with poor public transit. Whether the shared micromobility system is owned and operated by the transit agency or through a public-private partnership, subsidizing shared bike and scooter trips is one of the most cost-effective ways to help people reduce the expense and environmental impact of car use.
2. Make it safer.
Too many streets are still designed for fast motor vehicle traffic at the expense of safety. In California, injuries and fatalities to bicyclists and pedestrians are higher than in most industrialized nations. Cities and counties must expedite the creation of protected bikeways so that people can choose to bike or work for their short trips without fear of getting hit by a distracted or reckless driver.
The problem is not the inherent safety of bicycling or even shared bikes. Data from shared bike systems in the United States show that shared bike users have fewer crashes per trip than riders on privately-owned bikes.
3. Give preference to bikes, including e-bikes.
In a typical work week, an easy ten-minute trip to a transit station and back will generate most of the physical activity that the CDC recommends for health. This intervention, worthwhile for its economic and transportation benefits, will also save Californians millions of dollars in health care costs. The intervention is effective even with the use of electric-assist bikes. Studies show their users also get exercise, and, if the motor-assisted top speed is limited to the speed of a regular bicycle (approximately 17 mph), e-bikes are no more dangerous than traditional bikes.
4. Enforce regulations to ensure safe sidewalks.
Riders need to operate scooters and bikes on sidewalks in most areas in California, and they should park them out of the pathway of pedestrian travel. Carelessly parked scooters and bikes are especially hazardous for people with vision impairments. That was a severe problem when these devices were first dropped on city streets, often without permission from the local authorities. Today, many shared mobility operating permits require users to park their devices on a pole or at a station where they are out of the way and document such safe parking with a photo to end the rental. These regulations are allowed by existing California law (AB 1286, 2020) and should be standard across the state. Most crucially, they must be enforced.
AB 371 includes a provision to require scooters and bike-share companies to identify each vehicle with a unique number in Braille so that vision-impaired pedestrians can report improperly parked devices. That is a simple provision that CalBike supports. However, a better solution is to prevent the hazard in the first place. Sidewalks must always be free of obstacles, including illegally parked cars.
Support equitable shared micromobility because our future depends on it
Everyone deserves to walk wherever they want on safe sidewalks free of hazards and obstacles. They deserve to be able to cross the street without fear of getting hit. Critically, they deserve a future that is not ravaged by climate change. This security is dependent upon a reduction in automobile use. We must reduce traffic to slow speeds, build protected bikeways and better transit, wider sidewalks, and better crosswalks.
Without shared micromobility, we will not reduce Californians’ debilitating dependence upon automobiles. We support the intent of AB 371 to protect pedestrians. As currently drafted, however, it will destroy the potential that shared micromobility has to transform our transportation system to improve the health and safety of everyone who uses our streets.