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Shorter Boston-area car rides have e-scooter firms spying opportunity

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Bird and Lime think its vehicles would help alleviate the region’s congestion, which so many short car trips exacerbate

E-scooters in a row. Photo courtesy of Bird

Two micromobility companies see opportunity in recent statistics that show that around half of all car trips in the Boston region are under 3 miles.

Bird and Lime, both based in California, are piloting electric battery-powered scooters in Brookline. And Spin, a micromobility subsidiary of automobile giant Ford, operates around 250 e-scooters in Salem with Zagster, the company that also operates the city’s bike-share. Spin is also participating in the Brookline pilot.

Otherwise, though, e-scooters are few and far between in Massachusetts due largely to decades-old laws targeting mopeds.

The recent stats about just how many Boston-area car rides are for such short distances might change that, though, Bird and Lime executives said.

INRIX, a mobility analytics and car connectivity firm well known for its traffic analyses, found that 49 percent of all automobile trips in the Boston area are less than 3 miles and 21 percent are under 1 mile. That’s slightly more than than the 48 percent and 20 percent, respectively, in other major U.S. metros combined.

“Where we see short car trips, we see enormous opportunity,” Melinda Hanson, head of sustainability at Bird, said. “E-scooters are an environmentally friendly option that is proven to replace short car trips, and alleviate the traffic congestion those trips create.

“What’s more, many of these trips would be faster and more convenient on an e-scooter. The people of Boston deserve to have transportation options for short trips beyond taking a car—we just need the state to make that possible by legalizing e-scooters.”

That was kind of the conclusion of the INRIX report, which saw e-scooters and other micromobility such as bike-shares and biking in general as ways to alleviate traffic congestion in metro areas. And the Boston area certainly has some traffic congestion—perhaps the worst in the nation.

“Boston has a serious congestion problem,” said Scott Mullen, director of northeast expansion for Lime, which already operates e-bikes in the region. “Residents, workers, and students in the region spend more time sitting in their cars than anywhere else in the country.

“Micro-mobility is a proven way to reduce traffic while providing a more sustainable, reliable alternative to cars. Fully utilizing e-bikes and e-scooters for short trips would fundamentally change Boston’s streets for the better.”

The Brookline e-scooter pilot is scheduled to end in mid-November, at which time stats on usage and ridership during the entire test run should be available.

Meanwhile, Bluebikes, the region’s largest bike-share, continues to expand and recently blew past its 10 millionth trip—suggesting there really is substantial demand for more ways to get around Boston and its environs without a car.

Note: This article was updated throughout to reflect Lime’s response and the Salem e-scooter project.