Spin Scooters Solve Some Problems, Create Others


The sudden influx of electric scooters are a boon in many ways, but a menace in others

Andrew Shlomchik, Staff Writer

On July 9, hundreds of electric scooters, with their distinctive bright orange stems and charcoal-colored decks began to appear on the streets of Pittsburgh. Under the new Move PGH program put into effect in Pittsburgh on that date, the Ford subsidiary Spin, formerly the start-up Skinny Labs, Inc., used a ride-sharing model to provide the scooters to city residents. Reactions have been mixed; while the scooters have seen widespread uptake as a convenient means of transportation, the often hazardous piloting of the scooters has caused numerous complaints by Pittsburgh residents. Are Spin scooters good for Pittsburgh?


The Move PGH program that saw the introduction of the Spin scooters is a collaboration between the city of Pittsburgh and several transportation companies, including Zipcar, Healthy Ride, Scoobi, Port Authority, and of course, Spin. The goal of the program is to provide more equitable, environmentally friendly, and convenient transportation for residents who don’t have cars. The electric scooters of Spin and other companies are designed to fill the need for “last mile” transportation for cities like Pittsburgh that lack comprehensive public transport. Standard public transportation like buses can only take you so far, and you might be forced to walk long distances to reach your final destination.


The scooters are clearly popular. Uptake of the program has been widespread, and at the time of writing, over 320,000 Spin scooter rides have already occurred. But one hardly needs data to know of the scooter’s ubiquitousness. In my neighborhood of residence, Squirrel Hill, at least, a Spin scooter can be found on nearly every block. Riders on Spin scooters are now just as common as cyclists, with university students from Pitt and CMU appearing anecdotally to be the primary rider demographic. 


The scooters inhabit an awkward middle ground on the spectrum of transportation, as they are not fast enough to travel along at the same speed as cars, yet they are motorized and therefore do not fall into the same category as bicycles. In other words, they don’t pick a side. They are required to ride either on the road or on the few bike lanes present in Pittsburgh. This effectively forces them to behave exactly as a car might, but with their speed restricted to 15 mph, they cannot behave like a car. On the twisting and turning roads of Pittsburgh, with the many blind corners and crests, there are many opportunities for an accident, especially if a car attempts to pass a scooter.


Furthermore, the scooters are parked with shockingly little discipline. According to the rules of both Spin and the city, the scooters are not permitted to be parked on bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks, or driveways. Scooters may only be parked in legal street parking areas with the wheels perpendicular to the curb. As many readers will no doubt note, and as I have no doubt noted, these guidelines are rather loosely adhered to. Granted, Spin has taken several measures to ensure that riders only park in permitted areas, such as a reporting system that can result in fines, or even permanent bans, for riders, as well as making riders take a photo of where the scooter is parked upon the completion of a ride. Evidently, these measures have had limited effectiveness. 


As someone who regularly cycles to get around the city, I have firsthand faced some of these challenges. Numerous times, I have nearly hit scooters inappropriately parked on bike lanes and sidewalks, and even on the street. The riders of the scooters also tend to ride quite dangerously, creating hazardous conditions on the road. One particularly frightening incident occurred on Wilkins Avenue when a scooter being ridden on the wrong side of the road would have collided with me had I not swerved out of the way in time. Since scooters reside in the aforementioned middle ground of transportation, many riders don’t feel beholden to the rules that regulate cars. Because there is no easily identifiable license plate or other forms of identification for city residents, it is also difficult to report such incidents. 


One might easily, and rightfully, believe that I am against the advent of Spin scooters following these criticisms. Initially, you would be right. Such was my animosity towards the scooters upon their introduction, that I joked to a family member that I would enjoy taking an axe to the infernal machines, should I get the chance. However, my position has considerably moderated on the matter, and I have come to see that the Spin scooters bring a great many benefits to the city of Pittsburgh.


Firstly, I should admit my privilege on this matter. I benefit from living in a household that has a car and resides close enough to my desired destinations to allow for cycling in most circumstances. Many Pittsburghers, however, do not enjoy these luxuries, and remedying this was in many ways the chief goal of Move PGH. The scooters cost $1 plus 39 cents for every minute of the ride, and as they are so ubiquitous, they can be both more convenient and cheaper than other transportation options. For the lowest income Pittsburghers, reducest rates are available not only for Spin scooters but also for the associated programs such as Scoobi and Healthy Ride.


The scooters allow for far more convenient transportation for Pittsburgh residents, and as part of the broader Move PGH plan, it may bring economic benefits to Pittsburgh. Transportation inequality is not an issue to be neglected. If residents cannot easily and cheaply access locations necessary for their economic and physical benefit, such as workplaces, grocery stores, and schools, they are inhibited from exercising social mobility. Transportation equality will allow for greater overall equality in opportunity for Pittsburgh residents, which is surely a goal worth striving for.


As the effort to fight climate change begins to speed up, electric transportation options such as Spin scooters will be invaluable in reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Spin scooters are only one part of this effort, and hopefully, it will result in Pittsburgh having an exemplary transportation system. This does not mean that there won’t be problems. All of the problems I have stated still stand, and although the city has enacted legislation to regulate the use of scooters, more must be done to ensure their safety. Spin scooters and other programs like it may be an invaluable tool for making Pittsburgh into a better city, but we must be careful that they don’t create more problems than they solve.