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Is the Boogie Down Bronx Ready for Thousands of E-Scooters?

1:37 PM EDT on July 20, 2021

Lime’s Russell Murphy teaching a Bronx resident how to ride an e-scooter. Photo: Fiifi Frimpong

Will the Bronx be ready for the city's latest micromobility push?

Just five Bronx residents showed up to the latest Lime "First Ride Academy" last week in the West Farms neighborhood — even as the Department of Transportation will unleash 3,000 e-scooters onto the streets of the East Bronx as part of a pilot program, supposedly later this summer.

The 90-minute, July 14 outreach event at Boston Road and East 180th Street was the fifth time the company — one of the three that won bids to participate in the micromobility pilot — invited New Yorkers to test out its scooters and learn about the new technology.

But the paltry attendance — and the fact that the the DOT did not assist in promoting the event — does not bode well for the scooter experiment in a borough that has scant experience with micromobility fleets. Many Bronxites use e-bikes and scooters of their own. A small pilot of dockless bikes in the Fordham area ended in 2019. The entire city is behind the curve in terms of scooter share, as many American cities began installing such fleets five years ago. Meanwhile, Citi Bike is expanding in the borough, with 262 bike stations in the Bronx, according to Lyft Transit Head of Communications Jordan Levine.

The DOT did not answer when asked about the low turnout for the scooter demo or if it did any promotion to stoke participation. But a spokesman, Brian Zumhagen, said that safety is the department's top priority for the East Bronx pilot and that "all three companies must provide four free in-person trainings every month during the pilot period." He also mentioned that "riders will also need to complete an in-app safety training before riding and their first three trips will be in a lower-speed beginner mode." It is not clear when the DOT will launch the pilot program; Zumhagen offered no update.

The DOT has contracted with Lime, Bird and Veo each to supply 1,000 scooters for the first phase of the pilot, which will bring the scooters to the borough's Eastchester, Co-op City and Morris Park neighborhoods. Next year, the pilot is slated to extend to neighborhoods further south, including Throggs Neck and Soundview, and to double the number of scooters deployed to 6,000. In all, the pilot should reach an 18-square-mile area of 570,000 residents, including 25,000 NYCHA residents, according to the DOT, and will not overlap with neighborhoods that are part of Citi Bike's expansion.

But it won't be successful if Bronx residents don't know how to use the scooters.

Lime's North America public affairs director, Jacob Tugendrajch, told Streetsblog that the company will push for more New Yorkers to learn how to use its device.

"Our commitment to serving the East Bronx and New York City is for the long haul, so we'll be out here all summer in the weeks leading up to and following our launch," Tugendrajch said. About 40 Bronxites attended the five "First Ride Academy" events leading up to the start of the pilot, he said.

Bird's communications officer, Rebecca Hahn, said the company is working on securing dates for events that will take place once the pilot kicks off. The company held safety demos in the Gun Hill section of the Bronx on May 10 and Pelham Parkway on July 8. She would not say how many residents attended the two events. Veo did not answer several requests for comment.

Fortunately, first-timers do not need much training to adapt to the scooters. The scooter accelerates with a kick push, by using one foot and holding down the throttle with your right thumb. The second foot stays on the deck at all times while both hands stay on the handlebars. The scooter feels balanced while riding and making turns. At the event, new riders were told that scooters are not permitted on sidewalks.

One Lime event participant, Christopher Godwin, a Bronx resident who works in Queens, normally commutes to work by train or on Revel mopeds. He said he would "definitely use” Lime’s monthly subscription service, perhaps for shortening his commute to the subway. 

Lime Prime was introduced last May, and a monthly subscription would waive unlock fees for every ride. The $5.99-per-month subscription allows riders to reserve a scooter, and use it for up to 30 minutes at no extra cost — standard users are only allowed 10 minutes. In the Bronx, a standard ride would cost $1 to unlock, plus $.30 per minute.

NYCHA residents and recipients of other public assistance are eligible for the Lime Access program, which offers 30-minute rides at just $.04 per minute with no unlock charge. Frontline workers, teachers, non-profit workers and people in the performing arts are eligible for the same discounts.  

New York City would be the first North American market to receive the so-called Gen4 scooters, which debuted in Europe last year and feature a mountain-bike like suspension to sustain tough road conditions. Speed is capped at 15 miles per hour and there are dual handbrakes. More reflectors were added on the baseboard, rear fender, logos and stem of the scooter to increase visibility at night. The scooters now use swappable batteries — similar to the ones in Lime's e-bikes that are available in markets outside of New York City — said Lime’s Senior Director Russell Murphy. 

Lime scooter. Photo: Fiifi Frimpong
Lime scooter. Photo: Fiifi Frimpong
Lime scooter. Photo: Fiifi Frimpong

Lime workers will now receive messages to swap out a dead battery without having to take the whole scooter in warehouses, which helps keep scooters on the sidewalks for consumers. The scooters travel about 30 miles per charge. 

Lime will do a hardware demo at the Bronxworks job fair on July 28 on East 146th Street between St. Ann's Avenue and Brooke Avenue.

With Eve Kessler

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