How to navigate the campus e-scooters trend

Rolling out alternative transportation programs requires that higher ed leaders keep safety in mind
By: | September 18, 2019
E-scooters are a popular form of alternative transportation on campus, but college leaders are careful in launching programs. (Photography by Kris Krug; image courtesy of Lime)E-scooters are a popular form of alternative transportation on campus, but college leaders are careful in launching programs. (Photography by Kris Krug; image courtesy of Lime)

With limited parking on most campuses and an eye toward sustainability, college and university leaders have been encouraging students to use alternative forms of transportation for decades. Electric scooters, the newest popular mode for getting around cities and campuses, are also a safety concern for officials, who are rolling out initiatives with caution.

Since the start of September, 300 e-scooters from Spin, the dockless mobility system provider, have been available on the Virginia Tech campus for a pilot study, reports The Collegiate Times, the university’s student-run publication. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute provided forward-facing cameras that were installed on 50 scooters and fixed cameras that were placed at about campus locations—all in the name of having video footage to study. Rider behavior, the behavior of those around scooter riders, and other safety data is being collected.

In addition, the e-scooters are controlled by a geofence so no one can travel more than 15 mph on campus (and only 5 mph on certain paths). A virtual parameter, the geofence also results in the scooter automatically slowing down and stopping if a rider tries taking it beyond campus into town.

UCLA is using geofence software for e-scooter safety enforcement as well, according to a report in The Daily Bruin, the university’s student-run newspaper.

UCLA Transportation has partnered with Bird, Lyft and Wheels on a one-year pilot program to help regulate how the devices operate on campus, ensuring the safety of riders and pedestrians. The providers must conduct safety training and outreach on campus and distribute helmets at outreach events.

E-scooter providers

Bird

Lime

Lyft

Spin

VeoRide

The department had released a request for proposals in the spring, requiring any provider that wanted to keep e-scooters on campus to file an application.

City scooter partnerships

Campus leaders must often work with their surrounding municipalities to make agreements about e-scooter use.

In Boulder, Colorado earlier this year, the city council passed a moratorium on issuing e-scooter providers business licenses until February 2020, reports CBS Denver. Staff want public feedback first, and the University of Colorado Boulder is helping in that effort. A few providers were invited on campus this fall to share their products, and then students had the chance to ride the scooters for free. Students filled out an online survey about their experiences, and university and city officials are analyzing the results to determine possible mobility options for Boulder.

In some communities, campus bans are being enforced while surrounding cities launch e-scooter programs—presenting a unique town-gown challenge. The University of Arizona set up a geofence this fall as the city of Tucson was introducing rental scooters, explains the Arizona Daily Star. Any scooter entering campus will automatically idle down to a complete stop and the rider will receive a message on their app informing them they’re in a “no-ride zone.”

University officials are reportedly considering lifting the campus ban if Tucson’s program is deemed successful—i.e., safe.

Student transportation specialists

Student involvement in alternative transportation implementation—whether it’s using e-scooters or bikes, or participating in vehicle ride-sharing or other programs—is common.

That involvement sometimes reaches back into the product launch phrase. As Fox 59 reports, two former Indiana University students with concerns about campus safety launched a carpool texting service that has evolved into ride-sharing company Nomad Rides. It has racked up 10,000 rides in less than a year and has just been licensed by the state.

The hope is to extend the app’s use to Purdue University, also in the state, and then other Big Ten campuses.


From UB: Getting students involved in transportation research


As UB reported last year, ride-sharing is not just accommodated at many campuses but formally promoted. Agreements with Uber and Lyft at Assumption College in Massachusetts—which originated with students—offer subsidized rides around the city. Other schools have similar programs.

Students are also involved in research on new, alternative forms of transportation, such as driverless shuttles, as UB shared in other coverage. Texas Southern University students, for example, participated in hands-on research and development of a driverless shuttle and then were surveyed about acceptance of the technology.

Now in the pilot stage, the EasyMile EZ10 driverless shuttle is Houston’s first autonomous shuttle. The METRO operates the shuttle, which has three stops around campus.

As alternative transportation continues to evolve on and around campuses, administrators must continue to evaluate the transportation landscape to decide which offerings to keep and which to add, as UB reported in an article on transportation trends.


From UB: People movers go to college


The stakes are high for getting offerings right. As Tony Lucas, senior director of university transportation and parking services at Sacramento State, told UB: “When we can’t get students to campus in a reasonable amount of time on public transit, they decide [the light rail] isn’t a good fit for them and they get back in their cars.”

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.