On the way to a new era of active transportation

In recent years, shared electric scooters (e-scooters) have taken cities around the world by storm. But how do people use this new mode of transport? Seeking to understand the potential impacts of e-scooters on land use, infrastructure and sustainability goals, researchers have some exciting new data to share about e-scooter users, exploring the interplay between demographics, behaviors and the objectives of the trip.

Funded by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) and led by Kristina Currans and Nicole Iroz Elardo from the University of Arizona and Reid Ewing from the University of Utah, the study combines a user survey with field observations to characterize the use and safety of electric scooters. The research team also included students Dong-ah Choi, Brandon Syracuseand Torrey Lyons from the University of Utah and Quinton Fitzpatrick and Julien Claw from the University of Arizona. The final report offers insight into what drives the behaviors of people using e-scooters, as well as those who walk, cycle and drive when e-scooters are present.

COLLECTION OF DATA ON E-SCOOTER USERS

Along with a literature review and examination of existing agency regulations, researchers analyzed the results of an online survey, administered by the City of Tucson in the winter of 2019-2020 (prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns). 19 later this spring). The online survey collected information on stated preferences (for example, whether people reported riding on the sidewalk or at night) and whether e-scooters have been replaced by other modes of transport. Additionally, they sought information on how crash experiences matched demographics and driving behaviors.

Next comes the collection of data in the field. Researchers and students observed people riding electric scooters in Tucson in January 2020; this data collection effort was quickly interrupted by COVID-19 related lockdowns. In Salt Lake City, the team conducted observations in fall 2020 and spring 2021, once e-scooter travel began to rebound. They examined how transport infrastructure – specifically bike lanes, the presence of light rail and the size of the facility – relates to observations of non-optimal behaviors for different mode users (e-scooters, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers), and those behaviors of e-scooter users included:

  • ride on sidewalks,
  • ride in vehicle traffic lanes,
  • violation of traffic lights,
  • distracted driving,
  • ride without a helmet,
  • have two or more passengers on a scooter, or
  • leave a scooter badly parked (for example by blocking the sidewalk).

The researchers also recorded the behavior of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. For more details on observation protocols and study sites, see chapter four of the final report.

HOW DOES INFRASTRUCTURE AFFECT TRAVEL BEHAVIOUR?

For e-scooters and bicycles, the type of infrastructure can affect how people ride. Based on the observations, a few patterns have emerged:

  • When bike lanes were availablee-scooter riders generally used the sidewalks less.
  • When light railways were presentsidewalk traffic occurred at similar rates with and without bike lanes.
  • On wider roadsboth e-scooter and bicycle riders have drawn heavily to sidewalks.

The researchers chose their study sites to understand how infrastructure related to the behavior of different mode users. They collected data from 5 different types of intersections in Salt Lake City.

The researchers presented a poster about it at TRB 2022: Effects of intersection design on non-optimal behaviors of electric scooters and other users. While the presence of multi-modal infrastructure is important, inadequate separation of large automotive facilities can trump the use of “appropriate” facilities in the decision-making process. This suggests that more optimal behaviors are likely to occur not where it is allowed, but where the infrastructure provided is perceived as safe.

Demographics also play a role: in terms of crash experiences, older respondents (40-60 years old) were much less likely to have had a crash than younger drivers (

OTHER BEHAVIORS IN E-SCOOTING

With the advent of a new mode of transport, many behaviors must be taken into account in terms of safety, the combination of users with other modes and the end of the journey on these micromobility devices.

HELMETS

Helmets are legally required for electric scooter riders. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey’s reported use of helmets (21% at least some of the time and 13% while riding) far exceeds researchers’ observations in Salt Lake City (2%) or Tucson ( 2%).

TRIP TYPES

A significant portion of e-scooter riding in Tucson seems to support more recreational travel. Indeed, e-scooter journeys seem to generate new catering activities. This finding is comparable to other research that indicates that travelers using active transportation tend to spend more money at convenience stores, drinking places, and restaurants. See two related NITC-funded studies: Review of consumer behavior and travel choices and Understand the economic and business impacts of street improvements for cyclist and pedestrian mobility.

E-scooter rides that replaced public transit trips were more common among those on low incomes or over the age of 30, but especially among those over the age of 60.

CAR PARK

Of the total 292 parked e-scooters observed in Tucson, 76% of all e-scooters were properly parked. 17% were parked incorrectly and about 7% were parked questionably (meaning either there was ambiguity on the rules or a lack of context in the photo). Each vendor has their own mechanisms for educating shippers and riders on proper scooter parking; it is likely that parking may vary by seller. Parking can also vary significantly in neighborhoods without designated parking areas.

IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY AND PRACTICE

Findings from this study can be used to inform policy and practice in multiple ways. Findings related to safety and infrastructure can help decision-makers prioritize and revise regulations and requirements for new micro-mobility options in midsize cities. Usage behavior information can help practitioners advance the integration of new technologies into transportation systems to improve safety and overall performance. Finally, information regarding modal shift can provide evidence to support consideration of micro-mobility options as a feasible strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from short-duration trips.

Join the research team on June 7, 2022 to hear first-hand the results of their research in an upcoming free online webinar hosted by NITC.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Towards a new era of active transportation: reviewing the use and safety of electric scooters

Kristina Currans and Nicole Iroz ElardoUniversity of Arizona; Reid EwingUniversity of Utah

This research was funded by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, with additional support from the Arizona Board of Regents, City of Tucson, Salt Lake City Corporation, University of Arizona, and University of Utah.

RELATED SEARCH

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The National Institute of Transportation and Communities (NITC) is one of seven National University Transportation Centers of the U.S. Department of Transportation. NITC is a program of the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University. This PSU-led research partnership also includes the Oregon Institute of Technology, University of Arizona, University of Oregon, University of Texas at Arlington, and University of Utah. We pursue our theme – improving the mobility of people and goods to build strong communities – through research, education and technology transfer.


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