Imagine renting an e-scooter to be environmentally friendly in Arlington and then being penalized when leaving it in adjacent Washington, D.C. That is exactly what could happen, and what students in one of the Schar School of Policy and Government’s graduate programs sought to fix.
Students in the Master’s in Transportation Policy, Operations, and Logistics program conducted research into e-scooter regulations across various municipal boundaries. The students were Houda Ali, Aleksandr Grinshpun, Ellie Larson McCurdy, Jephthah Nti, and Sterling Wiggins, and Siddartha Rayaprolu, a Ph.D. student in civil engineering. They worked with e-scooter company Bird, one of the best-known brands of e-scooters. Chris Stockwell, a 2017 Mason alumnus of the TPOL program who now works at Bird as a senior manager of partnerships, assisted the students.
The students, with the guidance of professor Jonathan L. Gifford, director of the Center for Transportation Public-Private Partnership Policy, and PhD in Public Policy candidate Lauren N. McCarthy, wrote a report titled Scooting the Boundary: An Analysis of E-Scooter Harmonization in fulfillment of the practicum required for their degree.
"The rise of scooters in Northern Virginia has been rapid, and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to use this practicum to analyze an aspect of transportation that’s actively growing and impacting our daily lives,” said Wiggins, a licensed pilot and a consultant in air transportation, who was also finishing his Master’s in Public Administration degree. “The chance to work with real-world data and engage with industry professionals on this exciting topic really provided a valuable, practical element to my higher education degree experience. " (And yes, he rides e-scooters at his home in Alexandria, Va.)
The team analyzed the patchwork of laws surrounding the use of e-scooters in metropolitan areas. For example, the use of some companies’ e-scooters may be allowed in Arlington, but not in nearby Washington, D.C., making it a challenge for companies to expand the use of these environmentally friendly means of individual transportation. It also complicates consumer engagement.
The research team looked at the way such policies have been “harmonized” throughout various principalities, states, and countries. They presented both the pros and cons of harmonizing the policies so as to present an unbiased synopsis of their research.
“Having the opportunity to study current, practical policy issues was an invaluable part of my graduate school experience,” said Ellie Larson McCurdy, a transportation planner for VHB, a planning and engineering firm and a recent master’s degree graduate. “E-scooter and shared micromobility regulation isn't an established practice—at the local and state levels, many governments are taking a trial-and-error approach, through pilot programs, to figure out how to best regulate the use of these devices and services. Studying a policy issue that is not fully established, and for which best practices are still being developed, was an incredibly interesting and educational experience.”
Of course, the novel coronavirus pandemic played a role in the study.
“This year’s practicum ended up coming at a pivotal moment for an emerging industry,” said Gifford. “It was fascinating to see the policy context shift within a single semester from viewing e-scooters as a potential nuisance and source of city revenue before the pandemic, to trying to retain scooters as an option in a new landscape of physical distancing and shifts away from transit.
“Regulatory harmonization seems to have the potential to lower barriers for e-scooter providers and contribute to a post-pandemic set of solutions,” he added.