For months, san francisco residents, city leaders, commuters, visitors, and businesses have been wrangling over the expanding use of small scooters. The little two-wheeled scooters are rented by users via an app; they find and start using the scooter, and when they’re done, they leave it someplace else for the next person to find it with the app.
City officials, however, have complained that the scooters have been left on public property, blocking bus stops and other public rights of way. Scooters have been confiscated, and in June all three of the major scooter companies took a hiatus from the market while things shake out.
Who will win the standoff?
NOT THE ENEMY
Taipei’s streets offer San Franciscans a simple lesson: Scooters are the future of transportation. To realize this future, city officials can study how their Taiwanese counterparts have integrated scooters into Taipei’s transportation infrastructure.
As we’ve seen in recent months, scooters offer Bay Area commuters a convenient, affordable transportation option. Tourists and workers alike use Scoot, Lime, and Bird to make up for BART’s uncleanliness, untimeliness, and under-connectivity to high-demand areas of the city. Travelers seem inclined to pick scooters over crowded buses as well. Imagine you’re a tourist visiting the Marina Green on a beautiful, sunny afternoon. Will you opt for an overcrowded, student-filled 22-line bus ride up Fillmore or a quick Scoot around the Embarcadero? It’s options like these that are pushing more folks to opt for a two-wheeled mode of transportation.
Scooters seem destined to expand even further in San Francisco. The city’s demographics, weather, and infrastructure limitations play to the strengths of the scooter. Who needs a car in a city increasingly full of single commuters and childless couples? What’s the point of a roof when the sun (or at least absence of rain) is almost always present? Why waste time looking for car parking when you can easily ditch your scooter?
In comparison to Taipei, San Francisco might be the friendlier setting for scooter expansion. On paper, cars should dominate Taipei. The aging city has many senior commuters; the Taipei subway line provides a cheap, accessible alternative to vehicular travel; and a typhoon-induced downpour can rain down on you at seemingly any moment (walking without an umbrella will leave you soaked and sorry).
Nevertheless, small sit-down scooters fill Taipei’s roads and line its side streets; the city’s residents know some benefits to scooter-centric transportation that San Francisco has yet to realize. An increase in scooters (and a corresponding decrease in cars) could help San Francisco officials address several of the city’s most pressing needs.
Take, for example, what eliminating the space allocated to car parking could do to assist affordable housing development in the city. Leaning into the scooter craze would even allow officials to reconsider long-standing policies on minimum parking space requirements that stem development and denser communities.
In the long run, a higher reliance on scooters could lead to narrower roads — opening even more space to housing and parks. In Taipei, side streets are usually one-way and impossible to navigate in a car. In response, residents of all ages and during any kind of weather (assuming they’re donning a poncho) use scooters to get around their local community.
By trading four wheels for two, we might even see gains in San Francisco’s productivity metrics. Freed from having to circle the block for parking or locating a free spot in a crowded lot, scooter riders shave a lot of time of their commutes. As a tourist, I flew around Taipei on a scooter and never worried about having to find a free spot even at the most crowded destination. Here at home, I’ve seen a lot of frustrated tourists searching for a parking spot in the Marina.
If San Francisco is to realize these benefits from becoming scooter-centric, it will require new policies and investments. I saw firsthand how Taipei’s transportation infrastructure reduces some of the drawbacks of scooter travel.
First and foremost, scooters in Taipei have large areas reserved for them at each intersection. These reserved areas ensure riders can have a safe start at green lights, rather than forcing them to circumnavigate slowly accelerating cars.
Second, scooters commonly have separate lanes, even on Taipei’s freeways. By limiting car-scooter interaction, Taipei has taken steps to make scooter transit safer.
Finally, Taipei’s walkers and drivers respect street signs — anti-jaywalking laws are enforced to a much higher extent in Taipei than in the free-for-all scene on San Francisco’s streets.
Such changes are needed in San Francisco for scooters to achieve their maximum level of convenience and safety.
Is two better than four? In Taipei, yes. In San Francisco, it ought to be.