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VOL. 133 | NO. 136 | Tuesday, July 10, 2018

City Looks Broader for Shared Mobility Services

By Bill Dries

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In its first 19 days of operation, the Bird system of electric scooters has averaged 1,200 rides a day for a total of 24,000 total rides an average distance of 1.9 miles and 8,600 individual riders.

As a result, says Memphis City Council member Kemp Conrad, the system has gone from 200 scooters to 500.

Kemp Conrad

“You want enough so that when people start to depend on them, when they walk out there are enough around where you can take it somewhere and not be worried about coming out and one not being there,” Conrad said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “But you don’t want them to just be dumped all over the town either. That’s how we approached it. It’s a demand-driven model.”

So is the Explore Bike Share system of 600 bikes at 60 stations around the city that in its first month met half of its annual membership goals.

City chief operating officer Doug McGowen counts 8,000 rides in the bike share program’s first month of operation with 3,000 unique riders.

“I think we are seeing better than we expected adoption of the bike share,” he said. “When you add those two together, you are talking about 32,000 to 35,000 trips that people are making on this shared-mobility platform just in the first month.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

With a federal grant, the non-profit Explore Bike Share is about to increase to 900 bikes and 90 stations.

The bikes are on a docked system, meaning riders ride them from one docking system to another via an app that tracks how many are at the stations. The scooters use a dockless system and are found via an app that tracks locations and availability.

“Our model here is we like the dockless scooters. But we like docked bike share,” Conrad said. “Well, there are some places that have experimented with having dockless bikes as well. Those are obviously bigger and harder to kind of put off the sidewalk.”

Memphis City Council members vote Tuesday, July 10, on the second of three readings of a city ordinance that sets permanent ground rules for shared-mobility services including Explore Bike Share and Bird. Both of the services are operating under temporary rules until the ordinance takes effect. The rules were in the works before Bird set up shop in Memphis last month with an eye toward other types of last mile or first mile transportation.

Doug McGowen

“Right now we haven’t had any formal inquiries for anybody. … We know that there are others who may have an interest,” McGowen said. “We want to make sure we don’t saturate the market with more than we need. I think we are growing in a very deliberate fashion here but we are not excluding anybody.”

Such a saturation was a factor in Nashville banning a stock of about 1,000 Bird scooters with no ground rules for their use. The move to Memphis was a result of Nashville’s decision to ban Bird.

“I don’t think we should wait until we have all of the answers,” McGowen said of shared economy services in general. “We are already adapting. We have put our very best plans forward. We’re being as accommodating and entrepreneurial as we possibly can. We know there’s going to be some issues that come out of that. But we quickly adapt, pivot and then put some new procedures in place.”

Conrad says the city’s early moves on shared mobility started under the broader heading of shared economy services like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft.

“We were the first city in the state of Tennessee to collect taxes automatically with Airbnb. … We had an ordinance. Everybody bought into it. We were the first city to do that,” he said. “We were doing the ride-sharing legislation. We were close to having the taxi industry, Uber and Lyft all aligned on that. The state then stepped in, but our ordinance here was the framework for that. This is harnessing demand using technology.”

McGowen said there is a place for the Memphis Area Transit Authority in the changes around shared mobility.

“I think they are both necessary,” he said. “If you think about transportation and mobility like your circulatory system, you need some big arteries in order to transport all of those red blood cells around your body. But you need some smaller views and smaller capillaries to feed into that.”

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