City Scooters: an informatics viewpoint

A colleague and I were recently making fun of tourists and others riding the city scooters around Seattle and other large cities. Nearly no one was wearing helmets, they’re zipping in and out of traffic, going up against SUV’s and 16 wheelers. Just asking for it. Now, it is true that Seattle has some the best bike lanes around, with dedicated ‘green lights’ just for bike lanes, to improve safety. It IS a bike friendly town.

As an aside, my son and daughter, when they were 9 and 11, were riding their Razor scooters to the park, when I overheard them:

S: my scooter has a turbo boost to go fast.

D: oh yeah? My scooter has jets.

S: So, my scooter shoots out flames

D: Well, my scooter has apps, and I can download anything and plug it in to make mine better.

Wow, kids of the smartphone age.

I thought of my children, while I hopped on this scooter, downloaded an app to unlock and pay for a day of scooting, used Google maps to find the Art museum, used Yelp to find a good chinese noodle place, and Weather to see if I needed a rain jacket. All from one device. We are living in the future, folks.

So I’m humbled to report, dear reader, that I stooped to try one myself. I have returned from that ‘undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns’. Hmm. Not exactly, but you get my meaning.

Seattle Chinatown gate

Here are some quick personal observations.

$ a city scooter is a nuisance – Some folks ride the scooter on the sidewalk, endangering pedestrians. Then they ride the scooter down wrong way streets against traffic endangering themselves. Often though, they ride in the many bike lanes, merging easily with bike traffic and other electric motor powered personal transport. It even looks harmonious!

$ a city scooter is a danger to the rider. There’s no way I would ride one. Okay maybe once. Okay, I’m pretty tired after my bike ride yesterday and maybe I could try it. At least it will be an interesting blog post. Hey this is scary. Hmm. Good design, my first ride is speed limited so as to protect the newbie. Wow, after a half mile of starts and stops I’m getting the hang of this and can’t wait to unlock a full speed ride. Zoom! Full speed second ride! This is a blast!

$ A city scooter is an app. The founders of this idea realized that their potential customer base is THE ENTIRE CITY of people who have a smartphone and need to get somewhere. With a QR code, snap a pic, set up an account, and in 3 minutes you’re on your first ride. Clever.

Museum of pop culture. Where are the ukuleles?

$ a city scooter is transportation disambiguated. I’m here in Seattle for an organized bike ride later, but don’t want to put my nice bike on the street with a lock. This is a great alternative: scooters on many street corners with an app-map to show you the nearest. Then, when you arrive, park (safely) and leave it.

$ a city scooter is micropayments. Even better with a day pass. $7 per ride or $21 per day, up to 6 rides. Cool. It’s like you own a fleet of scooters all over town.

$ a city scooter is a network which grows in value with more nodes. And Seattle supports several! not only are there Link scooters, but Lime scooters and bikes, and several other brands of mobility. Unlike the first generation of e bikes that required charging and locking stations, these can be left any where for convenience as long as they don’t obstruct.

$ a city scooter is an information highway. Interesting to think about what data is reported in real time, what adjustments leadership and management need to make to redeploy, fix, recharge, see where the scooters are needed and ‘rebalance’ their locations.

Seattle art museum

$ a city scooter is modular. The components of the network are easily swappable. Riders will report issues, the scooter will tell when the battery is low or needs repair. It is self-repairing as a network.

$ a city scooter has to gain popularity while promoting safety. After my second ride I received a mandatory quiz: which scooters are parked legally? What are the relevant city laws that apply to me? And yet there is the need to grow the business, so ‘helmets are required’ but a photo proof of a helmet is not required. ‘Photo proof of parking correctly’ is required. Hmm.

$ a city scooter has soooo many customers: the city government, employees, riders, the driving and waking public, shareholders. it is interesting also to think about how many city regulations had to be addressed and met, how the public perception must be managed, how the pricing and profit models have to continually be tweaked. Is there ‘surge pricing’ like with Uber? How do you balance all these demands and make a profit? What are the guiding principles?

Well, you recognize this one

$ a city scooter shrinks a city. This is perhaps my most profound observation. After the first nervous scoot, I had a face-splitting grin the entire time I was riding. Kick start, push the thumb lever and ZOOM I could see the city literally shrink in size as I rode. Blocks whizzed by, hills flattened, and I was master of the domain, blending into bike lane traffic with all my best friends. From Pike Place Market to the Space Needle and Museum of Pop Culture to the Seattle Art Museum to Biang Biang Noodles and back to the hotel. So easy.

CMIO’s take? Multi-dimensional thinking like this is common in healthcare informatics. I enjoy thinking, feeling, and working through hard problems like this. Do you? If so, come join our ranks! We and the larger healthcare industry need your brains and emotional intelligence.

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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