Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As I have said before, EScooters were not my issue until two days into our pilot last May when the Lime representative called me and asked how things were going. I was driving in my car at the time and literally shrieked “How is it possible that there are 11 year olds riding on these scooters?!?!?” After that discussion, I sent out what would be my first of many newsletters to you informing you about what was going on with the program, and from that point on this became my issue. Since then I have never strayed from my message:
We need to work really hard to make this program work for Hoboken, but for it to work it needs to be safe.
That is why a week ago, after joining my Council colleagues Giattino, Cunningham and Russo at lunch with another EScooter company, when Councilman Russo asked if I would join his Parking and Transportation subcommittee (including Cunningham and DeFusco) to tackle how to address the future of EScooters in Hoboken, I said yes. We have our first scheduled meeting this Monday evening. Since then, the mayor’s office reached out and asked if we not only would address the longer term plans, but to also make a recommendation to the mayor for the shorter term plan – aka whether or not we support extending the EScooter pilot which currently ends on November 20th.
TO EXTEND OR NOT TO EXTEND, THAT IS THE QUESTION
Ripping the band aid off....I can tell you that I will not support the extension of the existing pilot.
But… I will continue my work trying to improve the program, now with Councilman Russo, the Council subcommittee, and the administration, and craft both a detailed RFP as well as legislation with the hope that we can have a safe and sustainable program in the future. I 100% support the idea of having a multi-modal system of transportation in Hoboken. I have ridden the EScooters and totally get the functionality and convenience. But also see the safety concerns and risks that need to be better addressed.
WHY AM I NOT SUPPORTIVE OF EXTENDING THE EXISTING PILOT?
First and foremost because the City of Hoboken has not demonstrated its ability to safely manage this program. From the onset the administration raced to be the first city in New Jersey to onboard EScooters. When they first brought it to the Council to vote on the pilot – the Council was promised both education and enforcement plans prior to launch and neither materialized. Since then, little has been accomplished that was not driven by Council efforts and legislation. Most notably, we debated who is responsible for this at the original meeting where we approved the pilot – whether it was the EScooter companies or the City – and I feel strongly the City needs to lead this but clearly in partnership with our EScooter providers. So we need time to put the right framework in place and I think this is possible.
Winter. Dark, early nights. Slushy streets. Snowy sidewalks. Increased pot holes. Small wheels. Bad combination for Hoboken. I met with Lime who has indicated they have experience in other northern markets, but none like Hoboken with narrow streets and sidewalks and 60,000 pedestrians in one square mile. I don’t believe Hoboken should be an experiment and especially without having the right safety and enforcement framework in place (see first and foremost above…).
Not enough progress, and not quickly enough. We banned EScooters from the upper and lower waterfront and our parks two months ago. And still, Lime has not put geo-fencing technology in place to facilitate this. I asked for data on ridership along the waterfront (where we saw the most reckless riding), but were not given this. In both cases EScooter providers were not financially incentivized to accomodate our requests. In the case of the latter, we moved to put the ban in place along the waterfront and parks. Don’t get me wrong, I think Lime has made a lot of positive efforts to improve safety and work with the City but at the end of the day, their interests are not aligned enough with ours under our existing contract and we do not have an enforcement or recourse framework to change this. It is 100% the honor system which is not how a program like this should be managed.
No effort to obtain injury statistics. As late as a few weeks ago, the administration still had not yet begun an effort to obtain or centralize information on injuries. We know people are getting hurt. Seriously hurt. We hear about it from many sources. And we should understand better when, why, how and how serious. Why? So we can identify what changes we may need to make to improve safety. And so the public can be better informed on what the risks are to riding in Hoboken. Hopefully this is something the Council subcommittee can help tackle.
A needed break to reset terms. Lime made a critical error when they said that Hoboken is their best market in the world. They should have kept this as their secret! Because what that means – and what we are experiencing – is that every other EScooter company out there wants to be in Hoboken. I have spoken to several and what that really means is that Hoboken has the best chance at getting the best terms – including safety, efficiency, and financial – if we talk to all of them and make this competitive.
WHAT DO HOBOKEN RESIDENTS WANT?
Most want a safe program. Only some don’t want a program at all. And only some want to see it continue without requiring additional safety improvements.
Where does this come from? While the City will be releasing the results of its survey next week, this information comes from a few sources that all seem to be consistent. Councilman Russo emailed a poll to thousands of people and I understand that over 3,000 people responded including many of you. I don’t have the specifics in front of me but I understand that ~40% want to keep the program, ~25% want it to go away, with the remainder willing to keep it with improved safety and operational measures. Hoboken Girl also did an unofficial poll that seem to also suggest that most want to keep the program with necessary operational and safety improvements.
These results are not a surprise to me – last June, after about a month into the program, this topic was polled (with a smaller universe) and only 20% wanted to keep them (it was early days…), and 20% wanted to get rid of them, and the middle 60% was willing to consider them if we could make them safe. So over the past few months, with the safety measures that I led the Council to put in place including reducing the speed along the waterfront, requiring ID to keep kids off them, and ultimately reducing irresponsible riding through the waterfront and park ban, it is no surprise that numbers supporting them have improved.
Anecdotally I can tell you that I asked almost every 2nd ward resident who I met during the campaign, and the results seemed consistent again. Given the 2nd ward abuts the northern waterfront, after we put the waterfront and park restrictions in place, I did hear from more people that the program seemed to feel better with less irresponsible riding. But I can tell you that I often hear from people who live more towards the western side of Hoboken, that there is a sense that there is no enforcement and the irresponsible riding – riding on sidewalks, through stop signs and in the wrong direction on streets – is more prevalent.
To me, the biggest takeaway from all of this feedback is that we have to do more to improve safety and other operational issues like leaving them on the sidewalk in order for this program to work for most people. As I mentioned in my newsletter last week, we approved on first reading an ordinance that would ban leaving EScooters in the public right of way (sidewalks). The ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Russo, does not specify a plan for where they can be left, but with more time we can work out this detail including daylighting on street corners and corrals.
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED IN DISCUSSIONS WITH ESCOOTER COMPANIES
A lot. There is much more that can be done and we are just getting started with these conversations. Not only can we ensure better contract terms that include many of the below, but we can actually make our laws reflect these requirements.
- Geo-fencing can be done within 10 feet. So you cannot GeoFence a specific sidewalk. But you can geo-fence a wider area like a park.
- Geo-fencing can be done around a street system – so they can peg geo-fencing to our one way streets. What this means is someone who rides the wrong way on a one-way street could be forced to slow to a stop and not continue on a street. They can also geo-fence around our stop signs (if only we could do this with bikes and cars!).
- We can figure out a system where the companies can help us assess fines to those who break the law so we don’t have to rely solely on Hoboken PD or HPU enforcement officers. That said, in some markets EScooter providers also pay directly for additional enforcement officers.
- In some markets, companies have systems that only operate with parking corrals or identified parking areas, instead of like ours currently where they can be left anywhere. Some companies also use docking stations instead of dockless EScooters.
- In some markets, companies are required to do their charging within the city limits to add to the local economy. Although Lime still uses some local people to do overnight charging, they recently have taken to taking the EScooters in bulk to Secaucus to charge thus offsetting the environmental benefits and also taking opportunities away from local residents and businesses to earn extra money.
SO… WHAT DO I THINK YOUR REACTION TO THIS WILL BE
First, please know that I have read all the emails you have all sent me on this topic over the last several months. Including most recently, because of Lime's campaign seeking support, the 50 or so emails that I received asking that the Council extend the program. Overall I would say that without Lime's push, most of the emails I receive demand more safety and operational improvements and don't want the city to extend the contract until these are in place. With Lime's push - and remember they can email 60,000+ people at any time - it tilts the results to more people supporting.
For those of you who like the program, I know you will be disappointed that I am recommending we do not extend the current pilot: to you I say, I am committed to working hard to get an improved program by Spring.
For those of you who hate the program, I know you will be happy that I am recommending we do not extend the program but disappointed that I want to try to bring a more safe and Hoboken friendly program back: to you I say, I am committed to making sure we jump through hoops and have all of the operational, economic and safety measures in place to make them more acceptable in the future and if we can’t, I will not support them.
For the rest of you, I think my position will resonate with you.
WHAT I HOPE TO SEE OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS
Remember I am just one vote. I cannot speak for my Council colleagues, but my personal vision is that we take the winter off. We spend the next couple of months to finish the benchmarking study that the administration started. We meet with all of the EScooter companies to get a sense of their programs and what the "art of possible" is. We draft an RFP with terms that ensure the best possible program for Hoboken, informed by our own experiences, the results of the benchmark study and the many conversations we will have had with EScooter providers. We solicit responses from the widest universe that hopefully will allow us to have a safe and sustainable program with AT LEAST one provider (but hopefully more than one).
No matter what, I will work with all of my colleagues on the Council, as part of Councilman Russo’s subcommittee, and the administration to come up with an outcome that is right for Hoboken. Because its not about being first. Its about being the first to get it right. And we still have an opportunity to do this.
There is way more to come on this topic, but it starts with our subcommittee meeting Monday night and I am looking forward to getting started. As always, please forward to anyone you think may be interested in receiving this. And feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 201/208-1674 to discuss what you have read or anything else that is important to you. Have a great weekend!