‘Everything has been car-centric since Robert Moses divided the borough in half with the Cross Bronx Expressway,’ one Bronxite, who welcomes the scooters, told City Limits. ‘It’s just a matter of righting a lot of those wrongs, and we’re glad the city is finally paying attention to us.’

Emil Cohen/NYC Council Flickr

An e-scooter demonstration in Queens last summer.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since its original publication to include new information from the DOT.

On Thursday, the Department of Transportation announced it would launch the first phase of its long-awaited e-scooter pilot program in the East Bronx starting Aug. 17. Scooter corrals have already been painted on sidewalks along Westchester Avenue, East Tremont Avenue and White Plains Road.

This will be the first program of its kind in the city, bringing thousands of the electric scooters to neighborhoods where alternative transit options have been historically limited. Citi Bike, for instance, did not expand to the Bronx until six years after its initial launch, and while the popular bike-sharing program is now available in a large swath of the borough, there are no stations available in the East Bronx specifically.

“I think what they’re trying to do in the Bronx is to help it catch up to other parts of the city, like Manhattan and Brooklyn, where they already have a lot of this infrastructure in place,” says Ed Garcia Conde, Bronx native and creator of the news site Welcome2theBronx, who welcomes the new scooter-share to the area.

In recent years, the city and state have been pushing for the Bronx to become less dependent on car travel: In addition to the city’s e-scooter pilot, the MTA is planning to build four new Metro North Stations in the East Bronx that will quickly connect people to Penn Station, Westchester and Connecticut.

Car ownership in the borough is highest in the eastern end, where the e-scooter pilot is planned, city data shows, while 40 percent of households in the Bronx overall own a vehicle, ranking third in the city behind Staten Island and Queens. The Bronx is also home to fewer residents who bike to work than any other borough, with the exception of Staten Island.

“We’re just so far behind everyone else. We’ve been pushing for this equity in the Bronx,” Conde added. “Everything has been car-centric since Robert Moses divided the borough in half with the Cross Bronx Expressway. It’s just a matter of righting a lot of those wrongs, and we’re glad the city is finally paying attention to us.”

Still, not everyone is on board with the incoming e-scooters. Residents and some elected officials have raised concerns about how the program will impact the neighborhoods’ streetscapes, particularly since the scooters will be dockless.

“How are they going to oversee who’s going to actually be responsible to make sure that these scooters are not going to be throughout the neighborhood in areas where they become obstacles for pedestrians and those on wheelchairs that they have to navigate around?” City Councilman Mark Gjonaj, who represents the East Bronx’s District 13, said in a phone interview with City Limits. “In a city where we have difficulty just keeping track of our trash cans, how are they going to keep track of scooters?”

How it’ll work

The e-scooter program will be rolled out in two phases. Phase one will deliver 3,000 e-scooters to neighborhoods such as Eastchester, Co-op City and Morris Park. Phase two, which is planned to start next year, could bring up to 3,000 more e-scooters to areas further south like Throggs Neck, Soundview and Castle Hill. The idea is not to ride an e-scooter over long distances, such as from Van Nest to Eastchester, but to cover “last mile transportation” efforts, like getting to and from a nearby subway or bus stop.

The two phases of the pilot service area. (NYC DOT)

In addition to the e-scooter pilot, the DOT plans to create new protected bike lanes for White Plains Road and Bronxdale Avenue, and shared bike lanes along East 233rd Street and Eastchester Road. More improvements are slated for 2022 in both the phase one and phase two pilot zones.

The e-scooter service areas, which were specifically chosen as to not overlap with areas served by Citi Bike, will be provided by three e-scooter companies–Lime, Bird and Veo.

It will cost $1 to unlock a Bird or Veo scooter and $0.39 per minute to ride. Lime will also cost $1 to unlock but only $0.30 per minute to ride. All three companies will offer discounted prices for people enrolled in federal and state assistance programs. There will also be accessible options, such as seated scooters and wheelchair attachments.

Because the scooters are electric, they need to be charged. The three companies will collect the scooters periodically to charge them at warehouses and then redistribute them across the service areas.

Lime, which is now available in more than 100 countries, has been hosting a series of e-scooter prep classes called First Ride Academy where people can learn how to ride a scooter safely. Lime has hosted a handful of the events in the East Bronx so far, and spokesperson Jacob Tugendrajch said about 15 to 20 people usually attend each one.

“Lime data does show that accidents are very rare, but when accidents do happen, they’re often on the first ride a user takes,” Tugendrajch said. “We want to be really proactive about safety.”

The Bronx might learn from other cities that have hosted similar electric scooter initiatives, like Portland, Oregon, did in 2018. The city’s findings were released in a report from the Portland Bureau of Transportation and include a number of positive indicators, like people cutting down on car use.

“Thinking of their last e-scooter trip, 34 percent of Portlanders said they would have either driven a personal car (19 percent) or hailed a taxi, Uber or Lyft (15 percent),” the study says, adding that 6 percent of Portlanders got rid of their personal car entirely now that e-scooters were available.

Though it wasn’t dramatic, the bureau found that e-scooter use did decrease carbon emissions from transportation in the city, equivalent to removing nearly 27 average passenger vehicles from the road for a year, the report says.

There were some less positive results of the Portland pilot, too. Helmet use was rare—only 10 percent of riders used them—and 27 percent of riders did not park their scooters in designated areas. This slowed down pedestrian and bike movement and on occasion impeded ramps, handrails and curb cutouts that assist people with physical disabilities.

The city also dealt with abandonment issues. In 2019, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office removed 57 e-scooters and bicycles out of the Willamette River.

That’s one of Gjonaj’s concerns about the Bronx initiative: where riders are going to park the scooters. While the councilman says he supports the idea of e-scooters in general, he’s not happy with how the DOT is carrying out the pilot, and thinks e-scooters won’t be a game changer for how people in his East Bronx district get around; cars will remain the primary means of transportation, he predicts.

He also doesn’t have much faith in riders abiding by the rules of the road.

“We don’t have the mechanisms in place to oversee reckless driving,” said Gjonaj, whose time in the Council will come to an end later this year. “If the scooters are being used on our sidewalks, just imagine what that could look like, or if they’re being operated recklessly where they’re endangering not only the user of the scooter but pedestrians and motorists.”

Lime spokesperson Phil Jones said at the start of the program, Lime will have team members staffing high-demand parking corrals to educate riders and ensure scooters end up where they are supposed to be.

“If any rider or non-rider has a complaint they can communicate it to us via our app, our website or by calling 888-546-3345 and we’ll aim to fix it as soon as possible,” he said in an email statement.

Mixed reactions

Gjonaj’s objections have been echoed in some local neighborhood Facebook groups. “Are you kidding me? I live in Eastchester Gardens (NYCHA) and these people ride these scooters at top speed through the project morning, noon and night,” Donna Fischer commented in Bronx Community Board 11 Facebook page, in response to a query from City Limits soliciting local feedback about the pilot. “Please don’t encourage this program!”

During a Bronx Community Board 11 meeting in May about the pilot program, one attendee said they were concerned about people riding e-scooters on major highways, which is illegal. Lily Gordon-Koven, the director of dockless pilots with the DOT, said the scooters are geographically restricted, so if someone tries to leave the designated pilot area, the motor turns off. She said there might be a possibility of honing that down to specific roads like the Bronx River Parkway, which partially runs through the service area.

Conde and other supporters, however, argue the e-scooters will be a boon to Bronxites “who want an alternative way to move around,” especially in the East Bronx.

“It’s a transit desert as we all know,” he said. “There’s a dearth of direct access to transportation like the subway, particularly in Throggs Neck, which is miles and miles away from the nearest subway station.”

Michael Kaess, of Morris Park, said he commutes throughout the East Bronx and is excited about e-scooters. “Sometimes I don’t want to take out my bike if I’m heading toward or coming back from the subway,” he said, though he had some logistical concerns.

“The thing I’m most interested in is how good the scooter availability is going to be,” he said. “It’s not like Citi Bike where you just have one provider, and you open up the Citi Bike app and find a dock nearby. With the scooters I might have to check two or three apps to find an e-scooter nearby. It might not be as convenient an experience.”

In a Facebook message, Morris Park resident Steven Morales pointed out that, “Not everyone in our neighborhood owns a car and not everyone can afford one.”

“It’s important to give people as many possible ways to get around,” he added. “Helping people who don’t want or need a car to get around is also good for the climate. Green transportation options are crucial so our community stays inhabitable for the long term.”

Luke Szabados, who lives in Bronx Community Board 12 and is the Bronx community chair for Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit that advocates for safer roads, bike lanes and walkways, said e-scooters are a good approach to micro-mobility.

“With the hot weather and the heat waves that we’ve been having, I am looking forward to a mode of transportation of getting around the neighborhood other than a sweaty bicycle ride,” he said in a phone interview.

One of the points supporters and opponents are both confused about is City Island. The small island off the coast of Pelham Bay Park is a modest hot spot for seafood restaurants and boat clubs. It’s right across a short bridge from the park and nearby Orchard Beach, areas that will be accessible to the e-scooters, but the island itself is not included in the pilot program area.

When asked about the omission at a CB11 meeting, Gordon-Koven said the DOT might expand the boundaries for the e-scooters after more discussions with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which operates Pelham Bay Park, about scooter traffic going in and out of the park from City Island.

District 12 Councilmember Kevin Riley, who represents several neighborhoods included in the first phase of the pilot program, said he has similar concerns to Gjonaj about parking and traffic safety, but he’s eager to see how e-scooters will impact the environment.

“I would like to see more transportation options that would help lower the emissions in my community,” Riley said in an email. “It is difficult to ask everyone to use their personal car less, being that we have a lack of transit supply in my district. I do believe the e-scooter program is a step toward the right direction.”