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DEI / Municipal government / Pittsburgh / Policies / Transportation

After months of debate over Spin, Pittsburgh gov announces an ‘indefinite pause in scooter operations’

Citing a lack of state legislation allowing e-scooters beyond the scope of a pilot, the City of Pittsburgh said starting July 10, the company will no longer operate within city limits.

A Spin e-scooter laying on a sidewalk in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood. (Technical.ly photo)
Update: Comment from Spin has been added. (7/11/23, 9 a.m.)

Love them or hate them, you were probably at least aware of the orange and black Spin e-scooters’ presence in Pittsburgh. Whether they were an ableist hazard or an inexpensive asset has been hotly debated for months, culminating in petitions, online discourse and public hearings.

Now, the verdict is in: The Spin e-scooter pilot program has come to an end, at least for now.

Since July 2021, the City of Pittsburgh has allowed Spin to rent its e-scooters to residents within city limits, with the permit’s expiration date set to July 2023. This past April, the City’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) presented on residents’ use of the program so far, including a reported 1 million rides taken in the city in the past two years. Officials also fielded criticism from accessibility advocates who described unsafe walking conditions and other problems caused by the scooters.

The City has since kept quiet about whether it would allow the permit to expire, or elect to renew it, until DOMI released a statement about the program on Friday via the Mayor’s Office. Although the goal of the program was to increase transportation options for Pittsburghers, DOMI said, in the absence of state legislation expanding e-scooter programs, Spin e-scooters will no longer be allowed in the city starting July 10.

The statement also notes an “indefinite pause in scooter operations” overall.

“Shared e-scooters were deployed as part of this two-year pilot program — the first time this mode was authorized in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the statement said. “The state continues to work through the complicated legislative process surrounding e-scooters, amid difficult budget negotiations. However, without any additional state authorization, e-scooters are no longer permitted to operate in Pittsburgh at the close of this pilot program.”

The statement added that other transportation options offered as a part of the Move PGH program, such as POGOH bikeshare, Zipcar carshare and Pittsburgh Regional Transit, are still available to the public. Additionally, DOMI plans to release a full evaluation report on the Move PGH pilot program at a later date.

City Councilmember Barb Warwick noted the desire to balance a need for affordable and accessible transportation without inadvertently creating more problems.

On Pittsburgh City Council’s part, City Councilmember Barb Warwick (D-District 5) noted a desire to balance a need for affordable and accessible transportation without inadvertently creating more problems. She told Technical.ly in June that councilmembers received messages and emails both for and against the e-scooters.

Yet following the public hearing Warwick herself had called, she said she found it concerning to hear that the e-scooters created obstacles for so many disabled residents. Not only that, but she was surprised to learn that the data City Council was presented with came only from Spin’s own surveys.

“There was no information coming from the rest of the public, right, about the impact of the program,” Warwick said. “I think that at the public hearing that followed, which really was the first time that the public at large was able to comment on the program, was where we really saw, in an open forum, the negative impacts of the scooter program.”

In early June, reports emerged that Spin was offering a $100 promo code to frequent riders who drafted letters in support of not only the pilot program, but proposed legislation that would legalize electronic scooters throughout the Commonwealth — Senate Bill 692 — and sent them to Pittsburgh councilmembers. Warwick said that although paid reviews weren’t new, in this case, they didn’t reflect well on the program.

“If you need to pay people to write letters of support, then that feels like a company trying to make it seem like their product is more popular than it actually is,” Warwick said. “If these scooters are something that people really, really, really want to keep in the city, then we would be hearing a lot more about it.”

The sentiment was echoed by Dan Yablonsky, communications director for advocacy org Pittsburghers for Public Transit, who called the offer a “$100 bribe.” Upon hearing the news that the pilot program won’t be sticking around, the organization’s leadership said in a public statement that they aren’t sad to see the e-scooters go. Within this statement, Yablonsky added that this shouldn’t be the end of the city nor state’s conversation about equitable transportation options.

“Residents throughout Pittsburgh who are disabled, elderly, have real mobility needs, and are in search of real mobility solutions have long raised concerns about scooters and their prioritization in the City’s transportation policy,” the statement said.”It is good that the PA Senate heard these concerns, however, Pittsburghers for Public Transit’s goal has never been to simply end a scooter program and the goals and message at the core of our campaign remain the same.”

After this article published, a representative for Spin responded to Technical.ly’s request for comment, stating the company was “very disappointed” by the service pause.

“After two years and more than 1 million trips, we feel confident that e-scooters have proven themselves as an important part of Pittsburgh’s transportation network,” wrote John Lankford, Spin’s senior director of partnerships and policy, in an email. “For this reason, we are optimistic we will be able to resume our local service following necessary action at the state level.” In the meantime, Spin is encouraging Pittsburgh riders to communicate their support for the service to state legislators, he said.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: City of Pittsburgh

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