By Seth Daniel
When Boston’s Charlie Palleschi first saw an e-scooter at an event in Cambridge, he thought it simply looked fun.
On second look, though, he realized the compact electric scooter could likely change his commuting life. And in fact, it has made his regular commutes to Assembly Square in Somerville, downtown Boston – as well as trips to neighboring Everett and Revere – last a matter of minutes rather than blocks of 30 minutes or more.
“I was blown away when I first tried one in Cambridge as a demo,” he said. “I began to think that if I had one of these, I could commute from my house to Assembly Row in minutes…It totally changes everything on good days – and getting downtown is super easy. I’ve used it a lot to go to Revere, taking the train there and then jumping on the scooter to get to my destination – kind of using it for the last mile. I can even keep it in my office, which is crazy. I just throw it under my desk. You can’t do that with a bike, and certainly not a car or anything else. Going into downtown, parking can be $40 or $50 and this is free.”
Palleschi and others in the Boston region are some of the first converts to e-scooters and e-bikes, but they may not be the last if a coalition of “micromobility” advocates can convince the state to allow more access to this new wave of transportation via rental-share companies that operate e-scooters and e-bikes (motor assisted bicycles) in the same way that BlueBikes operates.
A new study on micromobility – the use of e-scooters and pedal-assisted e-bikes – shows that Greater Boston is positioned as one of the areas nationwide that would most benefit from the widespread introduction of such new transportation systems.
The study was released late last week by the Micromobility Coalition – a trade association that represents e-scooter and e-bike rental companies. That study focused on access to jobs for residents of several Greater Boston communities, including all of Boston’s neighborhoods, Everett, Chelsea, Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville. Using Census data, they looked at jobs available within a typical 45-minute commute on public transit. Then they added e-scooter or e-bikes into that commute and found many communities would greatly benefit.
No community would benefit more than Everett, according to the study, but Boston neighborhoods aren’t far behind in the potential benefit, according to the study.
For all of Boston, the study found that within a 45-minute commute, there would be a 60-percent increase in job opportunities for those using micromobility options to either get directly to a job, or to cover part of a commute from a train station or bus hub.
Without such transportation options, Boston residents can access about 436,000 quality jobs within a 45-minute commute. With micromobility added in, that number jumps to 696,000 – a 60-percent difference. The next largest gain for communities was neighboring Everett, which saw a 303-percent increase in job opportunities with micromobility factored in. Chelsea increased 79 percent and Somerville had a 68 percent increase.
“This is one of a series of studies we’ve done in cities across the United States,” said Micromobility Coalition CEO Ryan McConaghy. “These studies look at the access of mobility options like e-scooters and e-bikes to unlocking economic opportunity…Greater Boston is one city area that could be a prime beneficiary for e-scooters. Around 49 percent of car trips are under three miles. These trips are easily replaced by dockless e-scooters and e-bikes. Boston is the most congested city in America. By moving people out of cars and into e-scooters and other means of transportation, that can change. Boston is uniquely positioned to benefit.”
McConaghy said one of the greatest time-savers for commuters using micromobility is to bridge the gap for the last mile – such as using e-scooters to get from MBTA stations to a destination that is beyond walking distance, but too close for a car or Uber ride.
“They might be using them to go directly to a job opportunity, or maybe they are using them to bridge a public transit desert – going the last mile much faster,” he said. “It’s no surprise to us there are significant jumps in opportunity in Boston. In particular, you look at a place like Everett which sees an increase of 300 percent of jobs available. You look at places like Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill where it adds to increasing access to existing transportation. These jumps usually happen in places underserved by public transit and places where there are large transit deserts. Micromobility there can unlock economic opportunity quickly.”
Right now, users can operate e-scooters or e-bikes if they own them – like Palleschi does – but the rental companies such as BlueBike cannot operate e-scooter/e-bike sharing platforms in the state. While Boston has tried out micromobility already and has prepared for them to come, the state still has not passed legislation that allows them to be rented out like bikes. That is mostly due to the fact that they are dockless and are to be left on the sidewalk when a rider is done with them. During debate over a scooter ordinance at the Boston City Council a few years ago, sidewalk space was the biggest issue – pitting those wanting micromobility against those in the disability community who worried about blocked sidewalks and thoroughfares.
Boston does have scooter legislation in place, and it is ready and waiting for the state to take action. McConaghy said Boston has been ahead of the curve in debating and passing legislation, but he said they hope the state can “get out of the way” to allow this new transportation to help city residents more easily access job opportunities.
Palleschi said using and e-scooter not only helped his work commute, but also expanded the places he considers going in his free time.
He also said that, unlike riding a bike, you don’t arrive at work hot and sweaty. That’s an issue for many bike commuters, who need to shower when they arrive at work on a hot, summer day.
He noted that the e-scooters are powered by electricity, and his is very easy to charge and runs at about 15 mph on flat terrain.
Added to the practical uses, McConaghy said they are simply a fun way to get to work or any other destination, “They really are a fun experience because on a nice day you’re outside and the wind is going through your hair under your helmet. It is just a fun way to get around.”