Disability Advocates Criticize New MovePGH Report

image description: graphic has text that reads “#UnlockTheSidewalk” with a photo of a Spin scooter completely blocking the public right of way.

In their newly-released “Move PGH Mid-Pilot Report”, DOMI and Move PGH are Spin Doctors for Spin 

Move PGH and the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) recently released the “Move PGH Mid-Pilot Report” that provides their assessment of year one of a two-year pilot “to bring Mobility as a Service (MaaS) to Pittsburgh.” This pilot program started in July 2021 and featured the deployment of Spin scooters, the first authorized electric scooter in Pennsylvania. The Spin deployment is the primary initiative of the Move PGH program and the focus of our criticisms, as the other members of the Mobility Collective have had minor roles in the pilot. 

This is an image of a Spin scooter laying lengthwise across a sidewalk, sandwiched between a gate and a sewer grate, with a PRT bus pulling up to the curb.
image description: photo of a fallen spin scooter that is completely blocking the public right of way. Photo from Alisa Grishman’s recent Facebook post.

In this report, DOMI acts as a marketing agent for Spin, rather than as the city’s public agency that is responsive to the transportation needs of all its residents. DOMI parrots Spin’s narrative of being “accessible, affordable, and equitable” without acknowledging the important concerns of and harms inflicted on Pittsburgh residents who have the fewest transportation options.

Because of the persistent, unresolved issues around scooter accessibility, safety, affordability, environmental sustainability, and accountability, our organizations believe that the Move PGH pilot should not be renewed.  

If accessibility were a true goal of DOMI and Move PGH, the report would have discussed the serious concerns of the disability community related to Spin scooters, which have been raised in correspondence to DOMI from the official Pittsburgh community disability advisory body, the City-County Task Force on Disabilities. The ADA requires that services, programs, and activities, when viewed in their entirety, must be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. The Move PGH pilot is not accessible to people with disabilities and there is no timeline for when it will become accessible.

Instead, the report’s discussion of “access” focuses on access to the scooters, not access by all people, and it neglects to mention how scooters additionally create access barriers on our city’s public rights-of-way.

There have been countless instances of scooters driven on and parked across sidewalks and in curb cuts, thereby obstructing sidewalks in a city where accessible and maintained sidewalks are in short supply. These are not minor inconveniences; for people with disabilities and people pushing strollers or cargo, abandoned scooters can render the sidewalk impassable. When this happens, it forces pedestrians into the street or leaves them trapped until the scooter is collected—and the scooters themselves show no indication of how to report this type of hazardous situation. The Move PGH Mid-Pilot Report does not disclose the prevalence of 311 complaints around scooter parking violations to the City of Pittsburgh, nor does it share data about how quickly Spin acts to remedy these issues when they arise or whether there are any consequences to Spin for these obstructions.

Those excluded by design from scooter usage mirror the demographics that need greater access to transportation: 

  • Youth under 18 
  • Older adults 
  • People over 220 lbs. 
  • Residents of communities with significant hills or valleys 
  • People without access to smartphones or banking
  • People traveling with dependents or cargo 
  • Low-income people
  • People with disabilities 

If affordability were a true goal of DOMI and Move PGH, they would be concerned by the high cost of Spin scooters and the very low participation rate in the Spin low-income program. As CMU’s Tech4Society and Pittsburghers for Public Transit laid out in their February 2022 Mobility for Who? report, e-scooter rides cost nearly $5 dollars per mile, and even the low-income fare program is not affordable to many low-income families, costing $1.50 per mile.

Moreover, the number of people registered for Spin’s low-income program is exceedingly low—186 of 152,785 unique Spin users (0.1%)—in a city where nearly 20% of residents and nearly ⅓ of Black and Latino residents are below the poverty line. 

The Move PGH Guaranteed Basic Mobility Pilot, introduced during the July 2021 rollout, has not yet successfully recruited 50 individuals to participate in the year-long pilot—perhaps because of the limitations of the possible users—which will put the Universal Basic Mobility implementation timeline past the conclusion date of the Move PGH pilot. 

If climate benefits and transportation mode-shift were a true goal of DOMI and Move PGH, the report would find it troubling that a higher percentage of walking and transit trips (43.3%) are replaced by scooters than personal vehicle trips (35.7%), which indicates that a greater environmental harm is realized than benefit.

In recent research, shared e-scooters have been shown to emit more CO2 than the transportation modes they replace. These shared e-scooters also create additional harmful lifecycle environmental impacts through the extraction process for batteries, the collecting, charging and rebalancing process of scooters, and fleet disposal. 

If equity were a true goal of DOMI and Move PGH, they would focus their time on increasing access to sidewalks and public transit, which clearly serve residents and neighborhoods with the highest transportation needs. While the City of Pittsburgh does not pay operators like Spin to operate in the city, significant city resources (such as city staff time, space on our public rights of way, use of police and 311 dispatchers, and lobbying for looser state regulations on scooters) are being directed to Move PGH instead of toward other critical and more equity-serving needs.

Because these critical resources–particularly city staff time and public right-of-ways–are limited, an equity-first approach would demand that marginalized and underserved communities get priority in decision-making and resource allocation

The Move PGH initiative has lacked consideration and care for community input and equity concerns since its inception, and their report further illustrates this stance. Notably, those critiques outlined above are trivialized in the report as “a need for increased education” and “a learning curve and an adjustment to living with e-scooters in our streets.” As of today, the Pittsburgh Mobility Collective still includes no representatives of the public.

As a result, we, the undersigned organizations representing Pittsburgh residents who need greater access to mobility options, are calling for the City of Pittsburgh not to renew the Move PGH initiative, and that the State of Pennsylvania not renew the enabling e-scooter legislation. The demonstrated harms of the scooter deployment outweigh its benefits.

Mobility is a right. For too long, our city government has been disproportionately focused on private technology solutions like e-scooters that do not and cannot meet the needs of all Pittsburghers for safe, affordable, and effective transit. Now is the time for Pittsburgh to change course and prioritize solutions that benefit the residents who have the greatest transportation needs.

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