After two years on the streets of the Steel City, Pittsburgh’s Spin electric scooter pilot program will expire at the end of June. The program, initially approved in 2021 by then-Gov. Tom Wolf, allowed electronic scooters in Pennsylvania for the first time. 

Transit advocacy groups hope a potential renewal will be shot down by state legislators. Instead of investing in e-scooter programs, Pittsburghers for Public Transit Executive Director Laura Chu Wiens said the city should improve resident mobility infrastructure and listen to community members during decision-making.

“Other cities have gained millions of dollars through a per-ride fee or a per-scooter fee,” she explained. “We also should get millions of dollars, and that money should go specifically into a sidewalk fund or a transit fund or maybe even an affordable housing and transit fund, something that actually enables people who currently have no access to transportation or limited access to be able to move around the city better.”

Although the city touts high scooter ridership numbers, Wiens wants to see evidence-based and people-centered policy-making.

“What I’ve heard from people at the city level is, ‘Well, we see people taking scooters in Homewood.’ You don’t hang your policy on this anecdote of how somebody’s riding a scooter in Homewood. That’s bad governance,” Wiens said.

“Instead, why don’t we listen to the people from the official body that represents the disability community and ADA about their experience? Why don’t we actually look at the evidence about who the users are, and what other forms of transportation they have access to and then evaluate whether it’s a very valuable new transportation initiative?”

Since its introduction to the city, Spin has surpassed 1 million trips, according to Jason Shaffner, Spin’s general manager based in Pittsburgh. Although most trips happen in Pittsburgh’s Oakland and Downtown neighborhoods, Shaffner said Spin sees high utilization across the entire city. 

“We actually see that a lot of people use scooters to connect to other forms of transportation, so it’s not necessarily that somebody’s taking a scooter in place of something else,” he said, “but rather, they are taking a scooter to get to their nearest T stop, for example, or they’re connecting to other modes of transportation.”

During the summer, up to 1,500 e-scooters are available for riders in Pittsburgh, while winter numbers drop to 750. In terms of user data, 45% of riders make less than $50,000 per year and more than 35% of riders identify with racial backgrounds other than white, a number that closely mirrors general Pittsburgh demographics, Shaffner said.

In April, Pittsburgh City Councilor Barbara Warwick called a post-agenda meeting and public hearing to further discuss how Spin impacts the city.

While there has been data made public by Spin and Move PGH, the two-year pilot program, Warwick told the Union Progress she felt like there had not been an opportunity for the public at large to comment on the scooter program. She said the comments made at the hearing, in addition to the many emails received by City Council, show that public opinion is split.

“On the one hand, there are people who love the scooters, they think that they’re lots of fun to use,” Warwick said. “But on the other hand there are an equally large number of folks who find the scooters extremely frustrating, and those, of course, tend to be people who are pedestrians.”

“From the city government perspective, I feel like we really should be focusing our efforts on more viable mobility solutions — public transit obviously being the No. 1,” she continued. “These scooters were sort of promoted as an equity solution, but I think that the numbers, even Spin’s own numbers from their own reporting, have shown that that’s really not the case.”

Warwick called the e-scooters “incredibly expensive” and somewhere about $5 a mile, which she compared to taking a car service.

And while Spin does have an access program for low-income folks, “the user numbers on that are minuscule, something like less than 1%,” Warwick said. 

According to Shaffner, about 400 people have signed up for Spin access since the start of the program and in May, Spin made the low-income program free to residents who qualify, rather than its previous 80% discount.

In addition to being advertised as equitable transportation, Spin has been billed as a last-mile mobility solution, helping get travelers from their door over that last mile to the bus or T.  

“The folks who need it the most are folks who have difficulty walking that last mile and those would be folks with disabilities, maybe the elderly, folks who are carrying things or have a large family,” Warwick said. “All of those people are people who can’t use scooters, so it’s sort of a solution that does not fit the people who are having the problem and when we come up with mobility solutions as a city we really need to start with the people who need them most.”

One of the biggest criticisms the Spin program has faced in its tenure has been illegal parking of vehicles on sidewalks. 

During April’s public hearing, Bluff resident Alisa Grishman, who uses a wheelchair, passed out photos of Spin scooters on their sides and blocking public rights of way. Of the five photos, Grishman said three were taken within 500 feet of her front door and one photo was of an e-scooter that hadn’t been removed for almost a week.

“Somehow we’re here again saying the same exact things about how this program disenfranchises already marginalized groups of people, which begs the question, ‘Is anyone actually listening?’” Grishman said. “Why do you think it’s OK to continue such a discriminatory program that leaves out people like me? That leaves out people who most need that last mile gap?”

Illegally parked Spin scooters force Grishman to travel into the street, which she said was unsafe. 

“I’ve got better things to do with my time than report every single time I’ve seen a scooter on the sidewalk,” Grishman said.

Shaffner said that the Spin program is monitored by the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.

“The most recent audit from DOMI found that only 3% of scooters were parked in a way that blocked sidewalk access, so I think that’s important context and know that 97% is going well but that 3%, that’s something that we do take very seriously,” he said. “We often see that if somebody submits a complaint about something, it’s generally resolved in an hour, which is, I think, quite impressive in this industry.”

Overall, Shaffner said the e-scooter program has been a positive mode shift in transportation for Pittsburgh. He said Pittsburgh is a very car-centric city, but e-scooters are helping pull people out of cars and, thus, creates less pollution and traffic congestion while also promoting a city that is more people-centric. 

“I think it would be disappointing to the 200,000-plus people that use scooters in Pittsburgh if this [program] were to go away,” Shaffner said.

Warwick hopes that if the bill were to pass, state legislators would make some changes before approving it. 

“One particular thing about that bill that really is odd to me, if I’m reading it correctly, is that … the only way to legally have an e-scooter is if you are using one provided by an e-scooter operator … [Y]ou can’t buy your own ones,” she said.

Not only would it be more affordable for a user to own their own scooter, Warwick explained that privately owned e-scooters would eliminate the issue of scooters “strewn about the city, and it would also alleviate the city’s sort of responsibility for just dealing with the program.”

Essentially, if e-scooters are to continue to exist in Pittsburgh, Warwick would like to see a model that is more affordable and more aggressive on the enforcement and accountability side.

State Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Philadelphia, chair of the state House Transportation Committee, told the Union Progress that the e-scooter program is something lawmakers are currently looking into as they get feedback from stakeholders.

“Stakeholders being the city of Pittsburgh, the area reps and senators, to see if the program is working, how it’s worked and if they want it to continue,” Neilson said. “I know that there are deadlines to meet; however we are still waiting for answers from them.” 

Hannah is a reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Email her

Hannah Wyman

Hannah is a reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Email her