The transports of managed commons: Rethinking multimodal transport systems

“Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” – Garrett Hardin

Shared mobility is unsustainable; the solution is a complete paradigm reversal.

Urgency for new means of urban transport due to the rapidly shrinking deadline to irreversible environmental damage and population growth has brought on a rapid, chaotic onslaught of privately-owned transportation network services. While potential environmental benefits of adopting zero-carbon transportation options is undeniable, the positive extent of their current impact has gone from questionable to minimal, at best.

What we have learned from decades of research and events in modern transportation is that increased supply does not mitigate congestion, and freedom of the commons brings ruin to all. , The tragedy of the commons is reaffirming itself once again. We are living it in realtime, overlooking the warning signs that have been flashing since scooters were first popularized.

State-of-the-art advancements from materials science, IOT, sensor technology and battery management systems has enabled us to conceptualize and create new inventions quickly and affordably. Those technologies are overlooked for the common commuter product by private companies that have prioritized profits and growth before rigorous testing, neglecting to ask themselves the necessary question ‘And then what’?

The main themes that merit further exploration are: history of personal transportation, what was successful centuries ago but thwarted by the rise of automobiles, the tragedy of the commons  lasting impact and neglect, the increase, the lack of comprehensive calculations and standardizations of carbon emissions from micro commuter corporations, and how they see their biggest problem as supply chain-- believing that their problems can be solved by overwhelming reliance on the sharing economy and assumed decency of fellow human beings to follow companies protocols and policies without enforcement of any kind, the multitude of problems that arose from attempts to apply the  “moving fast and breaking things” social network startup approach to publicly shared, privately-owned transportation network companies (TNCs)

Shared electric scooters, through the neglect of their creators to examine all unintended consequences of their haphazard delivery systems, have become an existential problem unto themselves, and the masses are suffering.

Using San Francisco as a statistical reference point, due it its relevance as the worst transportation city in the USA and its gap between carbon mitigation goals from the past 40 years, and taking the adoption of the briefly unregulated scooter sharing and applying those numbers to if adoption rates were the same for owned scooters, that combination of data would reveal how accessible ownership of reliable electric mobility platforms would reduce carbon emissions X amount of their goals.

The tragedy of the commons has been compounded many times over, hardin didn’t think about the frustration that would come from the population growth from 1968 to today, and it would be another 7 years until the first mention of ‘global warming’, here in this very same journal.

My thesis is that our transportation puzzle is a “multi-modal solution problem”, inspired by hardin's conceptual framework, informed by 50 years of empirical data, consumer trends, environmental destabilization, and economic evolution. It continues to be exacerbated by the business models of shared transportation corporations. They are trying to find a way to solve problems innate to a common goods-based business model by improving common goods and imploring their customers to be more considerate. Neither of these approaches will work. It is unfair to say that their ideas wholly misguided-- microtransport systems within the confines of a well-managed, private space such as a campus are exempt from many of the issues sharing is riddled with. I try to show here that the solution we must seek lies within a dual-diagnostic method-- addressing human and mechanical fault equally. The products must be versatile and reliable, users must be educated and guided by better route modeling, not reliant on the intuition or the inapplicable navigation recommendations of current systems or technical failures of their devices.

The transportation problem cannot be solved by ignoring the evidence of the ruinous consequences of common goods and relying on technical solutions,  any more than one can solve a jigsaw puzzle by playing plain sides up, cutting corners off.

I am by far, more hopeful than hardin. The fact that transportation has exceeded power source in top carbon emissions, while we have not sacrificed the pleasures of charged devices, just that solar has been more widely adopted, proves that people can adapt, but only when there are enough supporters to champion the cause early on.

What shall we minimize?

Doesn’t need to be population necessarily, while ideal, what is far more feasible is the widespread adoption of privately owned common vehicles.

We need to minimize Supply- scooters can last multiple lifetimes-- batteries can be upcycled, the structural components can last for centuries, no reason to treat them as disposable entities. Production time by designing for automation, using the most sophisticated techniques and materials, and making repairs easy enough as putting an in a tire or adjusting a gear. Travel time with better routing algorithms. Accidents with smarter systems and eliminating visual distractions that have proving to be the driving force of collisions. Controversy of adoption. If people are going to get on board with this idea, there can’t be elements to it that totally conflict with an everyday denizens quality of life. Carbon emissions, most importantly. The way to do that is all of the above.

The tragedy of a common commuter

SF transit devastating report from october this year showed that TNCs account for over half the increase in traffic, the rest is due to population growth and job commutes.

Promises of hybrid-powered transport

Since 1800, people have been making ways to get around from place to place faster, beginning with what looked like the lovechild of a kick scooter and bike.

There was once a time in New York City that you would see special delivery postal workers, police officers, gang members, fashionable suffragettes, uptight businessmen, all riding down the newly paved, automobile-ready city streets. That time was right around 1918, three years after the Autoped scooter was first manufactured in New York City, in collaboration with German-based company Krupps.

They were quite safe, their owners were trained and responsible riders, and were loved by customers across the country and throughout Europe. But the technology was too underdeveloped to be truly portable (99 lbs), price point too high to be truly accessible ($2,663 adjusted for inflation). And automobiles were a new, amazing thing! Traffic congestion wasn’t a thing, and would be another 60 years until anyone even predicted global warming.


Modernization of mobility platforms

Now we are at the point in technology that the most advanced mobility platforms address the major setbacks from the more widely known average market options.

TNCs/sharing economy

A former uber/lyft executive with a thirst for the CEO title thought it would be a great idea to put not scooters but birds (“scooters sound like a toy, this is almost a mini tesla”) all over Santa Monica sidewalks available to anyone with a positive balance bank account and a well charged smartphone.Adoption has been popularized. No need to convince anybody these things have legs.

We are in the fraught midst of the scooter craze’s second act. These transporters travel through time in cycles of mockery, intense popularity, public health hazardry, condemnation and banning. As of now, reviews are mixed, because this time around, their potential to reduce automobile usage and its relative carbon footprint is undeniable, but only when executed slowly, smoothly, without breaking things and taking lives.

In the wrong hands, scooters can be more dangerous than human-operated automobile, and scooter sharing companies do nothing to ensure that their riders are screened to ensure public safety. It would be easy, it wouldn’t be costly. They’ve time and time again shown their true colors based on the way they manage the aftermath of frequent accidents.

The havoc they caused in even the smallest, least populated cities they zoom around in the country. If we went the route of the Autoped, but this time with something truly compact, reliable, and affordable for everyone, the city streets would be relieved of a massive amount of clogging, people wouldn’t mount and dispose of scooters with reckless abandon and novice-level rider sophistication. It would be a safer city, commutes would be smoother, sidewalks would open up room for more pedestrians and the people with devices that require more room to pass by.

While we are living in the climax of the sequel of a scooter horror story, I am further inspired by its noble prequel. business model of ride sharing

Human-scooter-computer interaction

Systems in place that connect people to places and things better than ever-- you can get anywhere with the drop of a pin on a map


Multi-modal route choice modeling - route choice modeling

How to eliminate recklessness?

Every fatality was head trauma that could have been avoided with a proper helmet.

Collisions and collapses could be mostly eliminated with proper rider education and common sense. Fringe cases due to unpredictable physics and mercurial weather are a given, but even then, mass-adopted safety precautions and smart scooting would hamper most unfortunate accidents from becoming tragic disasters. on road safety visual distractions

Strategies for catastrophe

As Hardin says, Every plausible policy must be followed by the question 'And then what?' - energy transfer for electric scooters


Charting ridesharing domination of SF streets, and how they have barely reduced their transportation carbon emissions over the years, compared to the population growth, contrasted with the adoption figures of scooters when they were used in lawless times and apply that number to if they were owned instead and what that carbon effect would have.

co2e SF / sf tnc report /

This topic draws upon many different fields to get to a rich thesis on the intersection of the sharing economy, new transportation network companies, global warming, human nature and our insistence to ignore sound advice and a penchant for bad decisions.

Science has always been at the forefront of pressing discovery, and half a century after hardin alerted us of the perils of population growth and gave us a grim outlook, i want to return to it by peeling back all the layers of how and why our society has gone so far off the rails while proposing a means to get back on track.

I want everyone to know that these scooter sharing systems make very little sense in a way that is easy to understand.

The only way scooter sharing would be worth it is if everyone acted perfect, the products were fault free, and usage was ubiquitous and long-term. So, when implemented successfully, people would already be spending hundreds of dollars a month, so much that it just makes more sense to own one, so long as it’s compact enough to be easily mistaken for new-fangled  appendage.

The scooter wars are now dubbed a stampede, a country so divided that some have already experienced their lawless invasions to unanimous bans while others have never seen one on their streets. They’re glorified due to their conceptual potential to reduce carbon emissions (even though the companies admit they are carbon neutral, and the thing is everyone, especially chaos-ridden billion dollar businesses, underestimate their impact), and detested because the only real metric they’ve been able to display is that they exhaust supply chains, pollute public space, and overwhelm police officers and medical professionals?

Everything everyone hates about scooters are due to their sharing systems, while everything everyone loves about them are due to their product.

It is only when they are ridden that they exhibit their excellence for environmental benefits. When a stationary adornment to a sidewalk, they are an increasingly dangerous nuisance.

Say we took a step back and said, how can we reap the benefits of mass adoption, while eliminating

Riddle me this:

How can we make it so a scooter only exists when in motion, and when it is unused, it disappears?

The solution could very well be in scooter-keeping, and I think it merits worth exploring.

Let’s begin with the first influx of motorized scooters to cities, back in 1915, New York City.  

Humans have an easy time learning lessons the hard way.

Tragedy of the commons is spawned by rivalrous commodities. We are currently all caught in the crossfires of a highly public scooter rivalry.

Time and time again, this theory has proven that we overexploit shared resources, and privatized, external regulation of them does nothing to quell the consequences.

Sam FronsComment