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IUPUI PhD student unpacks the impact scooters are having on Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It has become commonplace to see electric scooters zipping around Indianapolis since their introduction last year. Now, there’s an effort to learn more about how exactly they’re being used and how the city is being affected.

Nata Apathy is among those enjoying the new modes of transportation.

“They’re enjoyable. They get me from A to B,” he said.

However, Apathy likely has a stronger interest than most. He’s a PhD student in Health Policy & Management at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI and he’s been studying scooter data since January.

“We're analyzing trends by day of the week, trends by hour, trends across the different scooter providers, both Bird and Lime and we're also looking at sort of weather patterns and how the weather sort of changes ridership levels,” said Apathy.

He says so far he’s found what you might expect.

“So like the Taylor Swift concert for example, there was an enormous spike in the number of riders heading down to Lucas Oil for that,” said Apathy.

Data shows more usage around large events, weekends, lunch and dinner, and when nicer weather rolls in. But, Apathy says he questions the profitability of the scooters.

“We still need to look at sort of the price effects so how sensitive are people to changes in the prices to these and that's gonna have major implications for how profitable these companies can actually be,” said Apathy.

The city makes some money from the scooters as well.

“I think that they certainly are serving some people,” said Sonya Seeder, Administrator of Bureau of Licensing and Permit Services with the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services. “People seem to enjoy them and have fun, so I think they are definitely bringing a benefit to the city.”

Here’s how the numbers stack up:

The city says through the end of 2018, Bird and Lime paid more than $337,000 from a dollar per day per scooter fee. It goes to a fund that can be used on things like the maintenance of bike lanes. DPW hasn’t outlined projects just yet.

The companies also have to pay a $15,000 licensing fee, which goes to cover things like administrative costs. Part of the licensing fee paid to the city will also help it pay for analytics to monitor scooters in real time, including things like where they are, how many are out there, and how often they’re being used.

"This will be a great way for the city to be able to track complaints,” said Seeder.

Lime says it continues to explore the ideal pricing structure and is committed to being an affordable and reliable transportation option. Bird says similar to ride hailing, Big Macs and cups of coffee, its pricing now varies by city.

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