What are those electric scooters replacing?

They have come. Just a few weeks ago, the green lime scooters, and black bird scooters, descended into the small northwestern city that currently shelters the headquarters of this particular media enterprise.  Like the headquarters, the scooters have not been welcomed everywhere. San Francisco declined to issue permits to most scooter companies. Seattle has banned them, and scooter companies have run afoul of city halls elsewhere.

ecology-3741063_1280

Some Scooters. With the descriptive image out of the way, the remainder of the images will be based off of scooter company names.

The official rebukes are due to concerns about safety, disrupting sidewalks, and general opposition to private companies parachuting in their own transit infrastructure, turf that is typically left to local governments.

For those of you that have not used one of these scooters, imagine beefier versions of the razor scooter that I had in fourth grade, plus lights, a QR reader, and a speedometer/battery indicator.  If you have not used them, the one thing you really need to know about them is that they are excellent.  First off, they are quick. I’ve only used the lime scooters, and have gotten them to max out at about 18mph[1] on a slight downhill. That is fast enough for even the most blasé rider to develop a passionate interest in the quality of the local roads, and much too fast for most sidewalks. Even if the sidewalk is free from pedestrians, the bumps in the sidewalk slabs can be jarring.  Emergency room visits have apparently increased following the introduction of the scooters.

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Lime is a scooter company. This lime is apparently accentuating a gin and tonic.

 

Keep them off the sidewalk, and they provide quick, electric, fun transport. My rides have cost between $2 and $3, which is comparable (from a user perspective) to a bus ride, but not quite as cheap as I’d like. Typical pricing is $1 to unlock and then a certain number of cents per minute, which varies depending on the scooter company. The scooters have been criticized for blocking sidewalks, but I’ve never had this problem as a pedestrian. Even if they did obstruct my It isn’t hard to move the scooter to the edge of the sidewalk, or worst-case scenario, simply take a step to your left, and carry on.

Are they good for the transit infrastructure?

That depends, in a large part, in what they are replacing. If the scooters replace cars, that is pretty much a win. Cars, as genuinely wonderful as they are, also sort of ruin everything. If scooters replace walking that is probably not so good, as walking is the most beneficent activity a single human can partake in. If they replace transit, that’s a bit more complicated.

Skip_containing_rubbish_16s06

Skip is a scooter company. No one knows why they named their company after this.

Lime assumes that half of the scooter rides replace one-mile car trips. On this, the PSH research team is skeptical. I suspect that the scooters aren’t really replacing driving or cycling, but instead complementing walking and transit. This is certainly how the PSH contributors[2] have been using them. They effectively double your range and speed when going for a walk, so locations that would otherwise be a far walk, are now more attainable.  They also expand the range of transit, especially in small cities, where transit service is more limited or less frequent. The scooter provides a vehicle for a trip that is a little long to walk, but a little short to drive, or not easily accessed through transit. Previously the only vehicle that was well suited for this was the bicycle, which is not as easily left as the scooters, nor as likely to provide the additional excitement of possible imminent death.

Andean_Cock_of_the_Rock,_Rupicola_peruviana_1

Bird is a scooter company. They have not chosen the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock as their logo. Yet.

The scooters are popular, more popular than the bikeshare programs that preceded them. The scooters are understandably (and correctly) popular with users, a July survey found that about 70% of those surveyed had a positive view of the scooters. The residents of San Francisco were less stoked, but they never like anything new.  Investors are excited, perhaps too excited, Lime is valued at a billion dollars, Bird at twice that. That sounds like a lot, and this sort of thing is perfect bubble material. Still, inventing a new kind of transit infrastructure is kind of a big deal.

 

Links, References, and Further Reading:

Vanityfair

Seattle Times

Willamette Week

Curbed

Washington Post

Vox

The Verge

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[1] For our European and Canadian readers this is approximately two hundred and eight kph.

[2] “contributors”

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