Use of new e-bikes and scooters in Kent soars, providing affordable mobility

Image of a man indoors next to an electric bicycle and an electric scooter
Michael Beck, regional general manager of Spin’s Great Lakes region. Owen MacMillan/KSU NewsLab

Since launching app-based e-bikes and e-scooters in Kent at the start of March, “micromobility” company Spin said 4,490 separate riders have taken over 17,000 trips.

Michael Beck, regional general manager of Spin’s Great Lakes region, spoke with Kent City Council on Wednesday night to update the city on how the company’s local launch has fared, and where it plans to go in the area.

“Whenever we launch a new program we see a lot of great interest,” Beck said. “Lookie-loos, people who want to check it out or get a first ride, we see a peak. But here we didn’t see that level off so much, demand has remained very high.”

Spin has 100 bikes and 100 scooters in Kent. The company says an average of two rides per day per vehicle means high demand, but in Kent some scooters have seen as many as eight rides a day.

The company’s single most popular day in Kent saw 2,138 rides, nearly 11 trips per vehicle on average.

With so much activity, members of city council had questions about potential issues of parking and traffic obstruction.

James Bowling, deputy director of Kent’s engineering department, explained how the Spin devices avoid these issues: The Spin vehicles cost $1 to unlock and an additional 29 cents per minute to ride. Rides can only be unlocked or ended within 105 specific parking spots geolocated throughout the city and university campus.

This means unlike previous programs, a scooter can’t just be left anywhere, as the rider will continue to be charged unless they park in one of those spots.

“The last dockless [vehicle] program we had, we struggled with parking and other vehicle misuse,” Bowling said. “As these things evolve we try to get better over time, and Spin has a much better business model to promote more organized parking.”

In addition to the parking limitations, Spin also includes “geofenced” areas which limit the speed or even cut the throttle of scooters entirely in high traffic areas or parking lots.

Most of that use has been centered around Kent State’s campus, but Beck said through tabling at events and reaching out to local businesses Spin hopes to expand use in the wider community.

Micromobility vehicles can be easier or quicker than taking a car, but Beck sees the possibilities and responsibilities of ridesharing to also improve transportation equity.

“Lack of transportation can be a real barrier to escaping poverty,” Beck said. “I see it as our duty to provide that transportation cheaply and easily to the people of this community.”

Beck added that Spin has programs for people on government assistance, which can cut their prices in half.

In addition to providing the community with transportation, Spin and the city of Kent believe that the program will increase sustainability in the city and on campus.

“[Spin launched] as part of the city and Kent State’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and promote traffic management throughout the city [rather than] building additional capacity on the roadways,” Bowling said.

Bowling pointed to statistics from the North American Bike and Scooter Share Program which claimed that 36% of micromobility rideshare trips replaced what would have been a car trip.

If that number holds for Kent, that would mean in those first 12 days Spin potentially eliminated 5,000 car trips, Bowling said.

“We are not going to replace cars or get them off the road,” Beck said. “Our goal is to encourage people to avoid the car trip when they can. Say someone drives here to work from Canton, we want them to leave the car at work and take a scooter or bike to get lunch.”
Spin has what it calls a “dynamic fleet,” meaning that the number of vehicles available will change depending on factors like weather and demand.

“[In] fall and spring, the population of Kent grows, and we all know that,” Beck said. “So our number of vehicles available on the street will increase to meet that demand. In the summer, when students go home, we expect demand to go down, so we will lower our fleet to meet that demand.”

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Owen MacMillan is a reporter with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University, producing local news coverage in partnership with The Portager.