It’s safe to say that 2018 was the “summer of the scooter.”
Not one, not two, but a total of three dockless scooter rental companies launched in the Denver metro area this year, bringing hundreds of powered two-wheelers to the city’s streets and sidewalks. (Often not without controversy.) Since then, more new companies have entered the market.
On top of that, the region recently saw its first rollouts of dockless bike share programs as well, with a number of companies setting up shop first in Aurora before expanding further. These programs are in addition to the popular bike share programs that have been active in the region for nearly a decade.
The growth and popularity of these low-cost, grab-and-go transportation options are just a local reflection of a nationwide trend away from car-centric lifestyles and toward a more alternative future. And it’s not entirely new.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, public transportation ridership is up more than 30 percent since 1995, a growth rate higher than the 22 percent increase in the U.S. population in that time. As of 2017, Americans were taking more than 10 million trips on public transport each year, supporting a $68 billion industry that employee some 420,000 people.
In terms of the new dockless alternatives, 41 percent of city-dwelling adults say they are likely to use dockless bikes and 38 percent are likely to use electric scooters, according to Morning Consult, an online research firm. Of course, younger residents are most likely to be interested, but the numbers remained well above 30 percent for both types of transportation even up to the 55-64 age range.
This isn’t just happening in cities.
In Denver South, for example, we’re seeing alternative transportation already change what it means to live along the south I-25 corridor, bringing new business, new workers and new quality of life enhancements to our community. In our area, we’re primarily seeing this as the result of RTD’s Southeast Rail Line extension, which opened in 2006 and serves passengers along 19 miles of I-25 south of Broadway and I-225 to Parker Road.
But there are more alternative transportation options available to suburban residents than many realize, including everything from ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, to dockless bicycles, bus lines, bike paths, car sharing services like CarToGo and more.
For example, the region now has access to:
Lone Tree Link: This free shuttle service connects a number of key employment centers along Park Meadows Drive and I-25 with restaurants, retail, and the RTD transit system. Every 10 minutes from 6am to 7pm, including morning express runs to Charles Schwab and Sky Ridge Medical Center, this free bus ferries commuters back and forth across the busiest part of Denver South. There is even a new pilot program in the works this winter — Link on Demand – Powered by Uber — with operates in addition to the fixed Lone Tree Link service along Park Meadows Drive and extends the system to on-demand passengers.
M-Bikes: Launched in 2017, Meridian International Business Center at the intersection of I-25 and E-470 is home to the largest office park bike sharing system in the country. Known as M-Bike and operated by Zagster, the system boasts 21 stations located across the park, 200 docks and 100 bikes. The bike sharing system at Meridian was the first of its kind in Colorado when it opened last year and is available to anyone working in or visiting the Meridian area.
Bustang: The Colorado Department of Transportation’s popular Interregional Express (IX) bus service — a.ka. Bustang — connects commuters along the I-25 Front Range and I-70 Mountain corridors, including cities such as Denver, Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Vail and more, via high tech buses complete with WiFi service and digital scheduling. Service is available in Denver South now, too, thanks to a new stop at RTD Colorado Station at 4300 East Colorado Center Drive.
None of this should come as a surprise, though.
According to Governing magazine’s 2010 American Community Survey, alternative transportation has been taking hold in Denver South for year. Although 88.2 percent of respondents were still driving to work at that time, public transportation in general already accounted for more than two percent of residents, followed by walking, bicycles, car sharing and more. Working from home also made a large impact, accounting for 8.1 percent of workers even eight years ago.
Trends like these matter because of the outsized impact that public and alternative transportation can have on a local economy.
For every $1 invested in transportation projects $4 in economic impact is generated, and every $10 million in capital investment yields $30 million in increased business activity in the area served. What’s more, home values near public transit lines and other transportation alternatives perform 42 percent better than those without those options.
This isn’t slowing down, either.
Millennials and younger generations are active users of alternative transportation, viewing it as a way to connect with their communities and avoid the hassles of car ownership.
Dockless scooters may not be here yet, though they have been making inroads in Lakewood already. But alternative transportation is already changing day-to-day life in Denver South in other ways. It’s up to the community to adapt to these new options and reap the benefits to the region.