It’s a scooter and e-bike season unlike anything before in the Mile High City. Booming ridership is giving multimodal transportation advocates something to cheer for and also some reasons for concern.
Lyft saw record-shattering ride totals on its electric scooters and bikes in Denver last month amid painfully high gas prices and a busy month in the city’s core anchored by the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup championship run.
The hefty numbers — more than 308,000 riders in June, according to Lyft, — are further proof, multimodal transportation advocates say, that demand for options outside of cars is still growing in Denver and the city needs to continue investing in infrastructure like protected bike lanes .
“Americans are increasingly turning away from private vehicles and making micromobility part of their daily routine — and today’s gas prices make bikes and scooters even more appealing,” Josh Johnson, a senior policy manager with Lyft, said Friday.
Lime, the only other micromobility operator authorized to work in Denver, sets new ridership records monthly, according to spokeswoman Russell Murphy.
June was no different. The company saw nearly 325,000 rides on its green-accented scooters and red electric bikes. That an 83% year over year for June and up 17% compared to May, Murphy said.
“As in other cities, gas prices have definitely boosted ridership as folks look to more affordable options to get around. We also see the return of commuting and summer travel playing a role,” Murphy told the Denver Post.
Survey results indicate that 43% of people using Lyft’s e-bikes do so for commuting purposes, Lyft officials said.
Lyft and Lime both signed five year contracts with the city in 2021 and are authorized to have fleets of up to 2,344 scooters and roughly 469 electric bikes.
Lyft shared ride totals dating back to 2018. At that time, Lyft and Lime were among a handful of operators with smaller scooter fleets on the city’s streets. In August of that year, Lyft registered 25,673 rides. In July 2021, riders took the company’s pink-tinged bikes and scooters out for 254,448 rides, a then-record.
Then June of this year rolled around and gas at Denver stations started selling for close to $5 a gallon and the Avs finally returned to the top of the hockey world. The company’s internal data shows that during Avalanche playoff games, ridership in Denver went up nearly 50% compared to at the same times last year, Lyft officials said.
Jill Locantore is the executive director of the nonprofit Denver Streets Partnership, which advocates for “people-friendly streets.” She was pleased to hear about the record ridership totals. All of the problems with Denver’s transportation network — pollution, traffic fatalities, congestion, etc. — come back to an overdependence on cars, she said.
“Basically, anything smaller, slower and more affordable than a car is good for solving those problems and basically creating the kind of city we all say we want to live in,” Locantore said. “The problem is we don’t have the safe infrastructure to accommodate those modes.”
Lyft backs Mayor Michael Hancock’s five-year plan to build 125 miles of bike lanes by 2024 and supports city and state efforts to subsidize more people riding e-bikes, officials said.
While Denver has come a long way in expanding its bike network, many of the lanes don’t provide physical barriers between users and lanes of car traffic, Locantore said. More electric vehicles like scooters using the bike lanes also increase the chances for conflict between those devices and people on traditional bikes. She wants to see more space given to non-car modes of travel to reduce congestion.
Not every scooter and e-bike rider follows city rules to avoid riding on sidewalks. It’s a concern that has sparked outrage in Denver’s Lower Downtown neighborhood and has District 10 City Councilman Chris Hinds looking into new regulations that would mandate Lyft and Lime use technology to throttle vehicle speeds on sidewalks.
Lyft officials say their scooters will all have new decals by August telling riders to get off the sidewalk. In the meantime, Hinds says he has a meeting with the company in the coming weeks and hopes for a constructive conversation about safety. Pedestrians, parents with strollers, wheelchair users and others should all be considered when it comes to building a better transportation network, he said.
“It important for us to break our dependence on cars,” Hinds said, “and scooters and micromobility can be part of the solution so long as people feel safe getting around our city.”