They’re kinda nerdy, a bit trendy, and a lotta fun. Electric scooters are popping up around the globe. Fans claim these two-wheeled conveyances transform city life, reduce pollution, and calm traffic. Critics say they’re sidewalk-hogging, techno-hipster menaces. One thing seems certain: E-scooters have only just begun to roll.
E-scooters, or motorized stand-up vehicles, debuted in 1985. The “Sport” by Go-Ped had riders zipping along at speeds of up to 20 mph while avoiding vehicle insurance costs and parking woes.
Early e-scooters were perfect for short commutes and a safer, less sweaty option to the bicycle. But most city dwellers weren’t ready to don helmets and ride the sidewalks.
That changed in 2017 when startup companies Bird and Lime launched the first scooter-sharing services in California. They used car ride-sharing services like Uber as models. Since then, scooters without set home locations (“dockless” scooters), have rolled into cities from Fort Lauderdale to San Jose—and supplied more than 22 million rides in the first year alone. Over a dozen other companies have also begun offering e-scooter sharing, including Ford, Lyft, and Uber.
Using an e-scooter service is easy and affordable. A would-be rider locates a scooter using an app. A smartphone camera activates the scooter (for a one dollar start fee), and—zoom. Off you go (for just 15 cents per minute). When finished, the rider drops the vehicle off—here’s the amazing part—anywhere.
E-scooters have also made a business of battery charging. Bird and Lime recruit ordinary citizens—called Bird Chargers and Lime Juicers (get it?)—to charge scooters at night in their homes. Chargers and Juicers locate scooters with an app. They collect as many as they wish and simply return them the next day.
In Oregon, slightly over one-third of Portlanders say they use e-scooters instead of cars. Most haven’t chucked their keys into Portland’s Columbia River. But 16% have thought about going carless—and 6% actually did. So scootering is making a dent in traffic and pollution.
Scooter-sharing is still growing, but so are costs. Partly, that’s due to rules cities are placing on scooter use. Feasibility studies, pilot programs, parking arrangements, sidewalk etiquette . . . many issues must be resolved.
Many concerns are legitimate. Two years ago, scooters descended on unsuspecting San Francisco without city approval or even discussion. Now, with little or no regulation, many scooter users fail to follow the rules of the road (and sidewalk). Abandoned scooters litter streets, handicap ramps, and bike paths. Reckless scooter use causes traffic accidents. And there are safety concerns about tiny wheels, non-weather-safe materials, speed potential, and lack of training.
Despite these hurdles, e-scooters are likely headed your way. Get ready to roll with ’em.