Saturday, February 16

Editorial: Better integrating e-scooters on campus would help reduce emissions


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For a campus with a lot of slopes and walkways, UCLA is awfully opposed to the concept of traveling on two wheels.

Four wheels are somehow fine, though.

The university made national headlines – or rather, Washington Post’s blog’s – when UCLA Transportation reported students called a whopping 11,000 Uber and Lyft rides to and from campus. The peanut gallery was immediately up in arms, criticizing students’ apparent lack of energy to walk to campus and pointing to the major emission contributions of these short rides.

Hailing a ride for an otherwise short journey certainly plays into the narrative of the lazy millennial. There’s just one problem: The journey isn’t short.

And it’s also not how transportation works.

UCLA’s hill-laden campus is a constant source of grumblings for students – and yes, even visitors. The advent of alternative transportation, such as on-demand e-scooters and bike-sharing, cater to the campus community’s frustrations. The university, however, has given the cold shoulder to these transport modes, choosing to instead show the stick to those who don’t dismount and walk their wheels – or leave them in a bush somewhere – up Bruin Walk.

You wonder why Ubers and Lyfts are so popular.

Transportation ultimately boils down to conveniently traveling from one place to another. And UCLA has a major convenience problem: Its rolling hills make for an up to half-hour walk from one end of the campus to another. Those seeking to leverage technology to shorten this travel time are forced to duck between buildings or make use of roundabout protected bike lanes, making bikes and skateboards more trouble than they’re worth.

It’s not difficult to see why strung-out students, exhausted from the increasingly grueling demands of life at a crowded, competitive university would choose a quick ride in a Toyota Prius over wasting precious minutes traversing from the Public Affairs building to North Village.

The irony is UCLA has been privy to these concerns. UCLA Transportation operates alternative transportation programs, such as the BruinBus, Bruin Bike Share and TapRide – an on-demand ride-hailing service. Shoddy promotion or lack of extensiveness have made these transit lines individually insufficient for traveling about campus. They also collectively fail to address a fundamental problem: Alternative transportation should take less time than walking and be more environmentally efficient than driving.

This is where Bird, Lime and Uber Jump scooters – low-emission, dockless e-vehicles that are easy to park and can navigate campus thruways – come in. UCLA’s approach thus far has been to limit where these scooters can travel by barricading Bruin Walk or influencing the operating companies to remotely slow down the scooters’ motors when they enter sections of the campus proper. While these are effective ways to keep students safe, they ignore the demand for a modular transport that can scale the altitudes.

The solution is obvious, though. The university can cogently tackle its first-mile, last-mile problem by creating designated scooter lanes on campus pathways or existing mixed-use walkways and connecting those to established campus transportation – Bruin Bus and TapRide, for example – to connect the distant edges of campus.

Such a move wouldn’t be kowtowing to the demands of private transportation companies any more than UCLA already did in negotiating a flat-rate deal for Uber Pools and Lyft Line rides. Moreover, the university set out a goal to reduce campus emissions, and the sensible move is to meet students where they already are.

For some, that’s on-campus searching for an alleyway to use a Bird scooter in. For the 11,000 without time to kill, that’s in a Lyft Line headed to Franz Hall.

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