“It’s quite a challenge because when you’re driving, for example, people don’t care about municipal boundaries. They just want to get from point A to point B in the easiest way possible,” said Will Sawers, Wales’ Director of Public Affairs.
Wells Director of Public Affairs Will Sawers.
Image courtesy of Wales
While each city has its own stock requirements, the City of Los Angeles established its current program in 2021. Any operator that deploys vehicles in special operations areas (including Venice, Hollywood, and downtown) is required to deploy 20% of their fleet to stock areas. There is no trip fee for trips that start or end in these areas. The city also requires operators to offer commuters a lower income option, attend meetings with neighborhood councils and other local stakeholders, provide a non-credit card and non-smartphone option for payment and partner with a community organization.
But these efforts have not had as much of an impact as the city had hoped.
As of October 2021, there were 2,915 active users enrolled in low-income programs across all operators, according to information provided by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. That’s only 17 more passengers than the city reported a year and a half ago – in a report that also noted that 85% of users don’t know that equity programs are available.
Commuters in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Los Angeles use micro-mobility differently than those in more affluent areas, according to Sawers. While a rider in Venice may ride to the beach or to a restaurant, riders in underserved areas often use e-scooters as a means of getting from the crossing station to work and back.
He added: “We’ve even seen examples of people using our devices as a courier, where – using one of the many delivery apps – they can get a short work shift.”
Wheels plan to go further
Wells is trying something different. The company has made an effort to design its scooter the way low-income riders use it, and is one of the few scooter companies able to meet the demands of multiple municipalities in Los Angeles.
It currently boasts the most connected small transportation network in the Los Angeles metro area, with permits to operate in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Culver City, and West Hollywood, as well as plans to launch in Glendale.
In practical terms, this means that the user can ride the Wheels between municipalities to get to work or school without worrying about landing in a no-parking area (eg, Beverly Hills is geo-fenced and restricted to scooter rides and parking).
Wheels was founded in 2018 in West Hollywood by Jonathan and Joshua Viner, who previously co-founded pet sports startup Wag. The company’s scooters are designed to travel longer distances. Whereas a typical stand-up scooter goes one mile per trip, a scooter that sits on wheels goes a mile and a half. Besides the app-based service, the company also offers monthly rentals.
To date, the company has raised $96.3 million in financing.
As part of the Wheels for All program, riders in all four municipalities who use state or federal benefits can ride at a significant discount. Currently, wheel hardware costs $1.10 to open and then $0.39 per minute to ride. But unserved riders get unlimited rides of 30 minutes or less, and only pay the unlock fee.
The program is also more expansive than Los Angeles requires. In addition to low-income riders, people with disabilities, and seniors that the city classifies as a “disadvantaged population,” the Wheels program is also available to non-residential people.
To qualify, applicants fill out an online form and provide proof of enrollment in a state or federal program.
By comparison, rival Lime offers rides for $0.50 to unlock plus $0.07 per minute plus tax through its Lime Access program; Bird is offering 50% off Angelenos rides to low-income people through a community pricing program.
Although Wheels has the most solid stock software, the scoring is low. Only about 1,000 contestants were registered across the greater Los Angeles area. The program made just over 23,000 flights last year.
This is a problem that his company is doing its best to address, Sowers said. He added that he speaks frequently with social workers and organizations to help spread the word. He said many were initially skeptical about recommending micro-movement options to their clients.
One of these people called him after seeing a disabled person riding the Wheels:
“They called me and said, This makes sense to me. It makes sense for someone to sit and potentially have an accessibility challenge, but still be able to ride your machine.”
Dr. Susan Shaheen, a University of Berkeley professor and co-director of the Center for Transportation Sustainability Research, told dot.LA via email that Wells’ approach to equity has potential.
“It can provide an affordable alternative to using private vehicles, particularly during these times of high gas prices,” she said.
Image courtesy of Wales
No property rights without infrastructure
Another challenge that Wheels, like its competitors, is dealing with is infrastructure. California law prohibits e-scooters from operating on sidewalks. But not everyone feels comfortable riding an e-scooter or e-bike on the street, especially where there are no bike lanes and little infrastructure to keep passengers safe. This is especially true in many low-income neighborhoods.
“If you want to prioritize equity, you need to build micro-mobility infrastructure in the places where it is most dangerous to use micromobility, which is in communities that are less invested,” said Michael Schneider, founder of Streets For All. Providing stock means building an interconnected cycling infrastructure across the city, and especially along Los Angeles’ high-injury network, he added.
The city said it was trying to address the disparity.
Los Angeles brought in $4 million over two fiscal years through its Small Mobility Permit Program, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. Colin Sweeney, director of public information, said he’s using some of that money to fund the redesign of the Seventh Street lane, including protected bike lanes, after data showed that part of downtown was one of the busiest for e-scooters and e-bikes. E-mail.
Going forward, Sowers sees the potential for Los Angeles to use this funding, along with data it collects from operators, to build better infrastructure in underserved areas.
“If someone in a Transit Desert is riding one of our machines, and I give the city good data and say, ‘Hey, I have a lot of rides in this neighborhood, but there are no protected bike lanes,’ that creates a reason the city is built for that.”
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