BY EMILY WEYRAUCH
Atlanta is a city too often navigated by car, but the number of viable alternatives to driving is on the rise. In addition to public transit, two transportation options are emerging as increasingly viable ways for people to get around: shared-use scooters and bikes. With the City’s updated regulations for scooter operators, a new-and-improved system for the shareable Relay bikeshare system, and new bike and scooter lanes coming online, summer 2020 is gearing up to be the summer of shared-use mobility.
“One of our goals is making car ownership optional in the city,” said Josh Rowan, City of Atlanta Department of Transportation Commissioner.
E-Scooters and Dockless Mobility
While some Atlantans were left with a shaky first impression of shared scooters over the recent two years—with various companies dropping scooters in clusters throughout the city, often parked improperly and blocking sidewalks—the City has worked diligently to clean up the scooter scene in 2020. The City of Atlanta’s new permitting process accepted four e-scooter (and e-bike) operators to deploy fleets within the city. The operators—Bird, Veo, Spin, and Helbiz—offer several micromobility options including e-scooters, e-bikes, and even sit-down e-scooters.
Fleets of scooters returned to the streets at the beginning of July. Each provider is permitted to deploy 500 devices initially, with fleet sizes to increase in stages as agreed upon between the providers and the City. Each company has its own app that can be used to locate, scan, unlock, and pay for the ride.
The devices are available at a variety of prices. All cost $1 to unlock with an additional per minute fee—Helbiz’s is $.25, Veo's is $.29, Spin’s is $.33, and Bird’s is $.39. Bird and Spin also offer reduced price programs for low-income residents.
Riders should know that there are still rules on how, when, and where they should ride and park. The shared-use mobility devices like e-scooters and e-bikes cannot be ridden from 9pm-4am, and there are restricted speeds on the multi-use Beltline path. Riders should ride on the street or in a bike lane—never the sidewalk. Sometimes that might mean finding a route that includes bike (or LIT—light individual transportation) lanes or less-crowded streets. If you’re looking for the best route somewhere, request a customized route plan from Midtown Transportation.
Since riding scooters and bikes on the sidewalk is in violation of City Code, Rowan says it is possible for riders to be stopped by the Atlanta Police Department if seen doing so, but he said “we don’t want that to be what we rely on.”
Instead, Rowan and the Atlanta Department of Transportation are focusing their efforts on creating safer streets more quickly, to provide Atlantans with effective and safe ways to navigate the city.
The City is nearly a year into of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Safer Streets, which has committed to delivering 20 miles of multi-modal streets for Atlantans. The City is currently working with Midtown Alliance to repave and stripe a protected bike lane on Spring Street to improve safety and mobility and all users.
“As we create more safer spaces on the streets, we will attract users to that space,” said Rowan.
The City also encourages riders to wear a helmet and refrain from phone usage while riding scooters and bikes.
Rowan said that while scooter etiquette is important, it’s also crucial that those in cars are mindful of other users of the road.
“We fixate on a handful of people and their scooter behavior, but every day we have multiple car crashes [in Atlanta] and we’re not talking about driver behavior,” said Rowan.
Meanwhile, the City’s longstanding bikeshare program, Relay, has gotten a makeover in recent months. The program, which launched in 2015, has a new smart lock technology and app that riders can use to reserve bikes and unlock their ride. Riders scan a QR code on the HOPR Transit app to start their ride and can either choose to pay as they go ($3.50 for the first 30 minutes, $.15 per minute after) or buy a monthly pass in advance ($15 standard pass, $10 student pass, and $5 SNAP low-income pass).
Relay uses a hybrid model for parking, meaning that riders can bring the bikes back to parking hubs or leave them elsewhere, as long as it’s a legal spot. It’s a $3 convenience fee for parking elsewhere.
“The new technology to Relay is really making it more reliable and easier to access the system,” said Chelsea Davidoff, director of national government and external relations at HOPR, the company that is operating the Relay bikes. While Relay has been a presence in Atlanta for a handful of years, Davidoff sees the new bikes and accompanying technology being a big improvement to ease of access.
“Relay riders have pedaled more than half a million miles on the original bikes since it launched five years ago,” said Davidoff. “And we’re really excited to pedal another million miles in the next couple of years.”
Relay’s older technology is now off the streets, and its team is working to deploy the rest of its 500 upgraded HOPR bikes over the next few weeks.
Scooters and bikes have emerged as a promising transportation option during COVID-19 as they allow commuters to be in the open air and maintain physical distance from other commuters. In response to our current circumstance, the Atlanta Department of Transportation has also required each mobility provider to introduce COVID-19 guidelines.
“Operations will be monitored daily, with fleet size and staged implementation timelines adjusted should any public health concerns emerge,” read an Atlanta Department of Transportation press release from July.
And during COVID-19, these bike and scooter operators are committed to cleaning.
Davidoff from HOPR said that the Atlanta team follows CDC guidelines and wears PPE while handling bikes. The bikes are disinfected on the street and before and after entering the maintenance facility.
Each of the permitted scooter companies has released a statement about their regular disinfecting protocols, and has information for riders on their apps. Further, Veo encourages riders to wipe down vehicles before and after use, and/or wear gloves while riding. Spin encourages riders to wear a face mask and wash hands before and after riding.
It's a good idea for riders of all of these dockless mobility devices to wash their hands before and after riding, and wear face coverings while outside in accordance with CDC guidelines. Additional COVID-19 commuting safety tips from Midtown Transportation can be found here.