It is time for UCR leadership to deal with the elephant, or rather, the “Bird” in the room. Students on the UC Riverside campus need access to reliable, affordable transportation that compensates for the campus’ lack of a comprehensive transportation system. Companies like Lime and Bird provide tempting solutions.
Bird scooters provide a welcome salvation for many cash-strapped students, charging only an initial dollar for the scooter and then 15 to 20 cents per minute after that. Considering that the most frequented areas on campus are within a half-mile radius of the Bell Tower (including Falkirk, Parking Lot 30, the residence halls and University Village), this translates to students only having to pay between two to four dollars per trip. This is cheaper than purchasing a temporary parking permit (day passes currently go for 9 and night passes go for $6.50) and it’s cheaper even than catching an Uber to class (with average rates usually hovering around $6-7 per trip. Additionally, the scooters can be used in conjunction with transportation options that are already in place like the RTA buses or TAPS Point-to-Point Shuttle system.
Other campuses have taken note of the effectiveness and simplicity of the Bird rider system and preempted the “flocks” by reaching out to the companies and establishing mutually beneficial contracts before the scooters officially arrived on their respective campus. UC Riverside has apparently chosen to ignore the efforts of its higher education colleagues and instead resorted to draconian measures including confiscation and citation for students utilizing the scooter service. What they have failed to acknowledge is that Bird, Lime and similar companies are providing a solution to a problem that UCR as of yet has no real answer to.
The “last-mile problem,” as it is referred to among those in urban planning and transportation circles, is a rather simple one at its core. It refers to the idea that public transportation isn’t laser-focused in terms of where it drops people off, parking is not readily available everywhere (especially true at UCR) and vehicle ownership is not a reality for many, meaning that folks are often stuck without a convenient solution to completing the last leg or “last mile” of their journey to work, home or school. The scooters provide students with a quick, easy and affordable ride right to their front door, with the ability to leave the scooter on the sidewalk for the next student to pick up. While many have complained about sidewalks being littered with scooters and riders violating traffic laws, these can be viewed as growing pains associated with the roll-out of a new technology. As the scooters and other forms of alternative transportation become more commonplace and less taboo, these issues will iron themselves out.
UC Riverside needs to commit to a serious effort of expanding alternative transportation usage across campus. The growing tension between campus and the electric scooters will only continue to expand if there is no hard data gathered and utilized with regards to frequency of usage, rider profiles, location “hot spots” with highest usage, etcetera. As student enrollment increases over the next decade and vehicular congestion gets worse on campus, the university should be working with stakeholder groups in order to find a solution, rather than penalizing students for utilizing alternative transportation in the first place.