Innovative Transit: Electric Scooters
These aren’t your dad’s scooters.
Electric, dockless scooters. These aren’t your father’s old foot-propelled models. And they’re not just for kids anymore. In fact, the scooters hitting the streets these days don’t need any human power at all; they have a small motor and battery which allows them to glide at up to 15 mph making them great modes of travel for short distances. They are hip and cool (as dad would say as he was using one foot to push his old scooter forward) and are becoming a popular new way to solve that pesky first and last mile problem, in certain cities. Dockless, electric scooters are an inexpensive and fun way to travel, and they’re popping up in urban areas all around the country – and causing quite a debate while they’re at it, as some companies pull in to a city, drop the scooters, and start operation in a matter of hours.
These scooters work much the same way regardless of the company (there are currently several purveyors – Lime, Bird, and Spin are three of the biggest) and are similar to bike shares. To find a scooter, a rider merely needs to download an app that details where the nearest scooters are located. Using her smart phone, the rider can then unlock the vehicle. Snap on a helmet (yes, you are encouraged to wear a helmet), step on the scooter, push off, and you are on your way. (Typically, it costs about $1 to unlock a scooter and another 15 cents for every minute of use.) At the end of the ride, use the app to lock the scooter and walk away.
Although the scooter companies advise their riders to leave the scooters in reasonable, out-of-the way places, local governments have been complaining about abandoned scooters littering the sidewalks and creating a safety hazard for pedestrians. And that’s not the only speed bump the scooter companies have encountered. Municipalities throughout the country are now in the process of trying to devise regulatory frameworks that will determine criteria for how these new companies can operate within their boundaries (In fact, some cities have banned scooters altogether until they can write appropriate regulations). There are a lot of issues to consider: whether scooter riders will be allowed to operate on the sidewalk rather than the street, regulating appropriate parking places for scooters once a ride is completed, determining what happens if a scooter collides with another scooter or a pedestrian, and whether these new start-ups should help pay for infrastructure maintenance. But like other innovative and disruptive transit start-ups, these issues will likely be resolved in the not too distant future, especially since dockless scooters are gaining in popularity.
A new study shows that 70% of people in the United States have a positive view of scooter transportation. The San Francisco-based data firm, Populous, surveyed 7,000 people in 11 cities and found that the overwhelming majority were in favor of electric scooters because they “expand transportation options, enable a car-free lifestyle, are a convenient replacement for short trips in a personal vehicle or ride-hailing service, and are a complement to public transit.” The study also found that women and people in lower economic income groups are embracing the scooter revolution in higher numbers than they had other first mile, last mile solutions. Also jumping on the scooter bandwagon are venture capitalists. In the past few months they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in scooter companies like Bird and Lime. It’s no surprise investors are taking the scooter plunge since this new mode of transportation is highly appealing to millennials who have a lot of disposable income and are less likely than their parents to want the expense and responsibility of car ownership.
So don’t tamp down your inner, childlike desire to turn mundane tasks into something enjoyable. Let your inner child loose! Imagine getting out of work on a beautiful summer evening, slinging your backpack over your shoulders, grabbing a scooter and taking a short spin to the bus or train station for your ride home. It’s easy and inexpensive. Oh yeah, and it’s just a little bit fun.