E-scooter: love it or leave it

Have you been to San Francisco or D.C. or Dallas lately? Hartford, New York or Charlotte? Ohio State? Notre Dame? Duke?

If so, you’ve noticed: electric scooters are everywhere.

On the sidelines, in the streets, zipping by traffic, en route to their final destination for a modest $1 (plus 10-15 cents per minute). Not clogging the roads. Not spewing exhaust.

So, why are people heaving them off bridges and setting them on fire? What’s wrong with electric scooters?

Let’s take a look.

E-scooters are transforming transportation in the city.

they’re easy

Generally, here’s what you’ll do to ride an e-scooter (like Lime, Bird or Spin):

  • download the app and create a login
  • a map will show you where a scooter is
  • add your credit card number, and driver’s license (on the first ride)
  • when you find the scooter, you take a pic of the QR code
  • the scooter is unlocked; you use the right hand to accelerate, left to brake
  • when you’re done, leave the bike (pretty much anywhere that doesn’t block a walkway) and end the ride on the app

they’re cheap

Fees are $1 per ride plus 10-15 cents per minute. At an average of $2-5 per ride, it’s cheaper than Uber.

they’re popular

A recent survey by Populus of 7,000 people from 10 major U.S cities shows:

  • 70% of people view electric scooters positively because they give more transportation options, enable a car-free lifestyle, are an easy replacement for Uber or Lyft, and work well with public transit.
  • electric scooters are used at higher rates by lower-income groups and could potentially help cities make progress on equity goals

they help with congestion

For example, New York City officials are working on legislation that may bring scooters to areas that are heavily congested, like the L train corridor.

they don’t contribute to smog

They’re electric, combustion-less and quiet.

Scooters are a problem.

damaged scooters are garbage

Fox News Salt Lake City counted the number of damaged scooters in three city blocks and found nearly a dozen Bird scooters that had been left for repair.

Bird uses full-time repairmen they call “Bird Mechanics” to service and maintain scooters that are reported to be broken. In Salt Lake City, however, Fox reports that only four bird mechanics service the hundreds of scooters that are spread out over the city.

awkward roll-outs

Bird drops scooters in a city, then waits for officials to contact them in the Uber model of invade-first/ask later.
In response, Bird has been given cease-and-desist orders, after-the-fact regulation, and outright bans.  They’ve had people chuck scooters into rivers, set them on fire, bury them, or set them in trash cans.

They’ve also expanded to 30 cities, and the company’s been valued at $2 billion.

Los Angeles was trying to negotiate with Bird, the Los Angeles Times reported, when the company rolled out scooters there anyway. Denver has been impounding scooters, according to the Wall Street Journal, while Austin, Texas, and Washington have imposed caps on the number of scooters companies may operate.

According to the Boston Globe, Bird pulled its scooters out of Somerville and Cambridge, Mass., after the cities issued cease-and-desist letters.

the charging problem

Charging is the scooter’s biggest limitation and most scooters are rented with much less than a full battery.  The Bird app shows charge through travel radius but the calculation is reported to be habitually wrong. And when the battery runs out? You’re stuck trying to find another scooter or–worse–to walk that final distance.

clogging the sidewalks

Scooters are left on sidewalks, lawns, and driveways where they block entrances and get tripped over. When being used, people may need to dodge riders or get hit. (Geek out on the bad accidents.) When three companies invaded San Francisco with scooters in one week in March, the local media declared the mess “Scootergeddon.”

carbon footprint

The energy savings is not as straight forward as it seems.

“If people are replacing a cab or an Uber or Lyft drive with a scooter, from an emissions standpoint, that’s obviously a better choice,” said Dana Yanocha, senior research associate with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. “But if we’re pulling people from walking or biking to scooters, then it gets a little bit more complicated, because the scooters do get charged. And the electricity from that charging could be coming from a renewable source. But it’s likely coming from a non-renewable source.”


You need a smartphone and a credit card to use a scooter app.

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