Charlotte takes e-scooter data for a test ride

Analyzing trip data from three e-scooter companies gives city transit managers new insights into micromobility supply and demand.

In Charlotte, N.C., more than 2.1 million trips totaling about 2.1 million miles have been taken on e-scooters by the city's nearly 1 million residents since the start of a micromobility pilot project in May 2018.

That’s the kind of supply and demand data the city can use to make decisions about how to proceed with e-scooters when the pilot ends next month, said David Harrison, a transportation planner for the city.

“The trip data is giving us a better sense of how the fleet is operating … and helps us understand potential fleet increases in a responsible way,” Harrison said. By looking at the number of trips per scooter per day, officials can understand how the e-scooters are being used and how many they need.

What’s more, the city is using data to test dynamic pricing for e-scooters. Rather than charge e-scooter companies a flat rate for parking, Charlotte is nearing the end of a six-month pilot in which it divided the city into zones with different prices to incentivize a more balanced distribution of e-scooters, promote access to transit and discourage e-scooter clustering in uptown, the most congested area, Harrison said.

The dynamic parking pilot program charges fees "based on where and how long the scooters are parked vs. a traditional flat per-device fee that some other cities have chosen to pursue,” he said. “We’re trying to see if the companies are optimizing their fleet distribution in a geographic sense, and also that’s the way we’ve been approaching charging those companies for the use of our public right-of-way."

For the test, the city contracted last fall with Passport, a mobility management company. Passport collects data from the three e-scooter companies licensed to operate in Charlotte -- Bird, Lime and Spin -- through an application programming interface. The company then analyzes the raw data to generate the invoices.

Additionally, the city gets reports with visualizations such as hot spots of e-scooter use and demand for parking, Harrison said. As a result, the city is installing scooter corrals -- essentially parking spaces for scooters -- in those areas.

“By working with Passport, the city can utilize technology and resources beyond what we currently have available for this program,” he said. “Passport is also working with other cities around the country, so they help connect us with other city leaders, planners or engineers who facing the same challenge, [so] not only can we rely on their expertise, but we can also rely on them helping us share experiences with our peers.”

In general, mobility data helps cities understand how people get around and on what modes of transportation: car, bus, bike or e-scooter, for example. “By having this data, cities can proactively plan and create strategic solutions to congestion, using trends to guide their management of the curb and their streets,” Passport CEO Bob Youakim said in an email to GCN.

Passport works with cities to consolidate data from micromobility companies, traffic enforcement and parking operations.

“Passport provides the backend technology for cities to manage their operations with detailed analysis of trends directly on the Passport platform, rather than just sharing raw information, all to make providing better services that much easier,” Youakim said. “Passport’s back office allows cities to export transaction-level data, but also provides a series of analysis tools to make it easy for cities to understand activity at a glance.”

The company is conducting similar pricing pilots in Detroit and Omaha. After those also end next month, Youakim said, Passport will share its findings with each municipality and create a “recommended strategy for cities working with the micromobility industry.”

Other cities have partnered with the private sector to wrangle micromobility data. For instance, Chicago uses Populus’ Mobility Manager platform for a pilot program it started last June with 2,500 e-scooters from 10 companies. City staff can access data from all the operators in one dashboard that includes views on equity zones and high-volume routes.

Some cities are opting to handle micromobility analytics themselves. For instance, Los Angeles developed a mobility data specifications with standards and API frameworks that let cities collect and analyze e-scooter providers’ data in real time, according to a Deloitte Insights article.

“When micromobility first launched, many companies did not share data (much like ride-hailing), but since then, cities have drawn on those lessons learned to know what data to ask for (and why, which is essential),” Ben Kelman, a consultant at Deloitte, wrote in an email to GCN. He said that’s thanks to standards and resources such as policy guidelines from the National Association of City Transportation Officials and support from the Open Mobility Foundation, a consortium of city and transportation leaders focused on mobility technology, data governance and standards, such as the Mobility Data Specification.

Cities vary in their abilities to analyze micromobility data. Some have robust data analytics departments, Kelman wrote, while others are stymied by funding or process-driven approaches instead of data-driven ones. To move forward, agencies need leaders’ support.

“This can start by conducting a self-assessment in areas such as data management, systems and technologies, business processes, performance measurement, etc., to pinpoint opportunities to advance digital maturity,” he said, adding that cities can learn from one another and adopt best practices. “By standardizing their approach with other cities, this not only accelerates their ability to shift to a data-driven approach to mobility management and planning, but benefits mobility providers as well because of the resulting standard data-sharing and policy requirements.”

In Charlotte, Harrison said that the city will likely continue with the dynamic pricing model and look for other applications for its mobility data.

“As technology improves and more data becomes available, we’re definitely going to look at opportunities to … innovate and manage e-scooters in a way that aligns with the city’s goals and using data to support future plans and policies.”

Editor's note: This article was updated Feb. 14 with comments from Deloitte.

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