After an abortive attempt in 2018 at solving the “last mile” dilemma of transporting people to and from mass transit terminals to work sites, the city is back with another whack at it. Shunning automobiles, with or without drivers, bicycles seem to be the preferred mode of transportation.
The first attempt of introducing a shared system of pedal power to commuters was through a system called Lime. Competitors such as Bird asked for the opportunity to introduce their systems to Fremont, but a decision to use Lime as a sole contractor was approved by the city council. Announced as a 1-year pilot program beginning in February 2019, a mobile app was to be used to call upon a fleet of 500 bicycles, electric assist bicycles and electric scooters of shared “micromobility.” Parking zones were anticipated to contain vehicles between use. February 2019 came and went without a single shared bicycle, scooter or micro vehicle in sight.
Fast forward to the next attempt of a bicycle-oriented system for Fremont. An announcement, without any fanfare or council consideration, has now appeared in city communications that another “dockless mobility” system is in the works. According to a press release and city communications, HOPR has been issued a permit to “roll out 250 dockless bicycles in Fremont on August 5, to provide a safe and sustainable mobility option.” Utilizing a one-year grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, shared bicycles are touted by Josh Squire, CEO of HOPR as a “convenient, fun and offer the added benefit of storage to carry groceries while also keeping you fit.” Open to anyone 18 years old or older, the program is helmet optional, opening questions of safety and user competence.
In a previous editorial [The scooters are coming, the scooters are coming: November 20, 2018], I raised the issue of road safety. Although my observations are anecdotal and may not be a true representation of all traffic conditions, they are nonetheless, still worth consideration. I have reprinted the editorial as written since my impressions have not changed dramatically from that time.
November 19, 2018
The scooters are coming, the scooters are coming!
I don’t know about the rest of you, but not only does the heavy automobile traffic in our area challenge my driving skills, but reckless disregard of signals and ignorance of basic rules of the road by aggressive, inattentive and ignorant drivers is daunting. I value my life and do not believe my commute – as short as it is – should be a daily demolition derby challenge. As I watch from what I used to think of as the safety of my car, it is apparent that others have a much different idea how to use streets and highways.
Self-driving cars may help avoid the typical daily mayhem on our streets, but the ubiquitous presence of such vehicles is probably many years away. In the meantime, anyone who ventures into vehicle spaces is in dangerous territory. Now, Fremont has decided to initiate an experiment of shared bicycles and scooters for the next year. An interesting concept; the idea is to allow adults to rent these modes of transportation and share space with the existing chaos. Responsible bicyclists who actually pay attention to the rules of the road understand the danger and potential lethal results of match between a 20-lb. to 40-lb. scooter or bicycle with a 3,500 lb. car. For those unaccustomed to traveling beside SUV behemoths, even in good weather and visibility, this presents significant challenges.
Popular use of this type of transportation in other cities such as Seattle and San Francisco may give some indication of its viability in our area, but concentration of work, residential and mass transportation is not a strong suit for Fremont and its environs. Envisioned by the exclusive contractor, Lime, a presentation to the Fremont City Council on November 13th focused on a limited area around the BART/downtown segment of the city. However, salivating councilmembers asked to extend the focus to the Warm Springs BART as a solution to the “last mile” conundrum for workers of that area. Will this become a modern version of the Wild West where harried automobile commuters tangle with scooters and bicycles? Motorcycles that weave in and out of traffic can be problematic, but untrained riders of scooters and bicycles, even in bike lanes, could be catastrophic.
The trial period of one year will give an indication of whether this may be a transportation alternative, but much remains to be ironed out. Will people actually use this? Bicycles are not new and yet there are relatively few people actually using them to commute. Scooters may also be treated more as a toy or recreational device, rather than serious transportation. Those required to dress conservatively for work may be loath to saddle up on a bike or scooter. If the weather is uncooperative – hot, cold, rain – will those depending on such devices abandon them? How convenient will it be to pick up and/or leave these vehicles at an intended destination? Should helmets be required for safety? If so, how are these supplied?
There are many questions to be answered about the practical nature of Lime and its counterparts such as Bird in the dispersed environments of our cities, but it will be interesting to see what happens. I hope it doesn’t result in an enthusiastic group of environmental advocates trying to match their prowess with the many witless wonders currently on the roadways. Not only do those using such transportation need to understand the difference between these vehicles, but it is time to address the plethora of automobile drivers who either do not know or refuse to observe even basic rules of the road such as who has right of way at stoplights… or even what a red stoplight means.
Until we can all confidently use transportation services – either manned or unmanned – without the need or desire for individually-owned automobiles, personal responsibility and safety issues will be paramount. The scooters/bicycles are coming, but are we ready for them?