Electric scooters: Urban menace or the next Uber?
America has a new littering problem, said Nikil Saval in The New Yorker. In recent months, piles of “fantastically ugly,” rent-by-the-minute electric scooters have been dumped on the sidewalks of cities from Santa Monica, Calif., to Nashville to Washington, D.C. This invasion began in March when three startups, Lime, Bird, and Spin—each eager to become the next Uber—dropped hundreds of the dockless, smartphone app–activated devices in San Francisco “before a permitting process had been established.” The city was soon flooded with complaints “about nerds scooting on the sidewalk and leaving scooters in front of stores and offices.” San Francisco quickly removed the e-scooters from the streets. Despite these hiccups, investors think scooter sharing is the future of urban transport, said Dan Primack in Axios.com. Uber, Google-parent Alphabet, and top venture capitalists last week poured $335 million into Lime. And Bird is seeking to raise $200 million in new funding on a $2 billion valuation. Venture capitalists say they’ve “never before participated in such a rapid and rocketing price spike.”
“I wanted to hate the scooters,” said Kevin Roose in The New York Times. But after taking a dozen rides around Santa Monica, I’ve realized “they’re pretty great.” Most rides cost less than $5—competitive with public transportation and cheaper than Uber. To unlock a scooter, you simply download the company’s app, fill in your details, and scan a handlebar code with your phone. The speed is restricted to 15 miles per hour, but it’s “zippy enough to put a satisfying whoosh in your hair.” When you’re done, you simply leave the scooter wherever, to be claimed by the next rider. If these easy-to-use e-scooters take off, “they could alleviate congestion and become a low-cost way of getting around cities.” Lightweight and emission free, “they’re perfect for trips that are too long to walk but too short to justify driving or hailing a car.”
That may be true, but the arrogance of scooter-sharing companies has alienated many people, said Marco della Caya and Jessica Guynn in USA Today. Outraged by the sight of scooters “strewn about sidewalks like neglected toys,” some San Franciscans turned vigilante, flinging the two-wheelers into trash cans, trees, and even the bay. Still, most big cities recognize scooter sharing is here to stay and so are trying regulate rather than outlaw the devices. In Santa Monica, council members have hammered out rules on scooter maintenance and rider education. Austin now requires scooter firms to carry insurance. And in Denver, city officials are busy writing new rules and impounding scooters found creating a public nuisance. If scooter companies want to operate in cities, says San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, “it should be on our terms, not theirs.”