With a GoPro secured to her helmet, Karly Nygaard-Petersen scootered alongside locals from five B.C. and Pacific Northwest cities as the residents turned informal tour guides steered through their favourite scenic spots and secret routes.
It was part of the micro-mobility researcher’s study into how fun impacts people’s transportation choices and, more specifically, the uptake of e-scooters.
“I was noticing people were saying things like ‘I felt like a kid again’ or ‘that was so much fun’ and just the way people were speaking about their experience on e-scooters seemed different from how you talk about your bus trip, your Uber ride,” the Royal Roads University doctoral student said.
It made her think there was an emotional aspect to people’s commutes and she wanted to see if research backed up what she’d been hearing anecdotally. She wanted to know what played into people using e-scooters and how cities could leverage that information in how they reallocate space that privileges cars to benefit all kinds of travellers.
Every single person Nygaard-Petersen surveyed found it fun to ride their e-scooter and that enjoyment factored into their decision to use one.
She also found similarities to people who ride motorcycles, where users said scootering gave them a sense of freedom, they liked not being enclosed in a vehicle and there was a sensory aspect where they enjoyed the wind in their hair. Riders also found it relaxing as they didn’t have to physically exert themselves or show up to work sweaty.
The battery-powered devices helped riders see familiar parts of their community through routes they’d never been on while driving or ones that were too far for walking.
“They were experiencing their city in a new way and were rediscovering it,” the researcher said. “That was really, really cool for a lot of participants.”
There was also a social component, especially for e-scooter newbies, as Nygaard-Petersen said they were usually starting their journey by going on group rides. Being able to maintain a conversation with other riders added to that sense of sociability and Nygaard-Petersen experienced a bit of that herself as many of her interviews were done while riding beside participants.
One observation from the study was scooter users were often uncertain about where they should be as they felt too slow for the roadways and too fast for sidewalks.
It’s currently illegal to use an e-scooter on roads in any community that isn’t part of a provincial pilot program, with sidewalk and crosswalk scootering also off-limits unless traffic signage allows it. No Greater Victoria communities are participating in the pilot, but the Capital Regional District recently tasked its traffic safety commission to review e-bike and micro-mobility options.
Reallocating parking or street space for multi-use pathways supports the overall health and well-being of communities, Nygaard-Petersen said, adding that many cities took a similar approach with pandemic-sprung street patios.
She hopes to highlight that people’s transportation decisions aren’t solely based on the fastest or cheapest way from point A to B.
“It feels a little frivolous to say ‘Oh I’m covering fun’ but I think it’s actually a really important and understudied part of consumer behaviour and decision-making.”
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