Love them or hate them, electric scooters are changing the very ways we think about mobility and transportation in a city.
PARIS — They're taking over and flooding the streets all across the globe. Sometimes, you can spot them hanging from trees. Some of them are Birds, but the majority are actually Limes. And some people are terrorized, to a degree that they are not only trashing them, but also pooping on them. I'm actually talking about scooters. Electric scooters. If you're still wondering, just look up #Scootergeddon on Twitter.
There are good things about them, obviously: Scooters are cheap, they help reduce traffic, they are environmentally-friendly, they generate jobs, they don't require any physical exertion, they save time and they're simply fun. However, the negatives can be staggering, particularly for pedestrians and car owners, who have to deal with dozens upon dozens of these machines lying around on the streets, sidewalks, building entrances and random locations — some entirely broken. Not to mention death-related accidents in Spain and the U.S.
Whether scooters are safe, or at least safer than bicycles, is yet to be determined. In Austin, a study said scooters report half the injuries than bicycles. However, this study paints a different picture. The truth is, the variables are so vast: Are accidents being caused by malfunctioning scooters, regular vehicle drivers, a poorly-maintained road or a drunk rider? It's not the same riding a Lime in Paris than in Athens, a city with an entirely different driving culture and with little to no bike lanes. At the end of the day, it will be up to the cities to not simply regulate, but equip and educate themselves and their citizens with the right tools. After all, people don't go around leaving their city bikes everywhere, do they?
What's for sure is that for some people it has already become hard to picture a world without these devilish gadgets. The two primary monster micro-mobility companies Lime and Bird operate in 23 and 10 countries, respectively. According to Forbes, these two transportation rental companies became the fastest ever U.S. companies to reach billion-dollar valuations, achieving this milestone within the first year of inception. Also, both hit 10 million rides in less than a year, a milestone that Uber reached in three years. And they continue to grow. In Europe alone, adds Forbes, five e-scooter companies have already emerged and raised over $150 million of capital since the start of 2018. Uber and Lyft are also jumping in the scooter bandwagon.
Here are five examples of how the electric scooters are beginning to permeate into our society — perhaps permanently:
In France alone, an estimated 15,000 scooters from various companies have invaded the streets, a number expected to go up to 40,000 by the end of the year, according to France24. However, in September, in an effort to prevent this and create more safety for pedestrians, the country will not only regulate the companies, but also ban all electric scooters from pavements, according to Le Monde. Those who break the rule will receive fines of 135 euros, while bad parking that obstructs the movement of pedestrians will be fined with 35 euros.
To make things smoother, the city plans to provide 2,500 dedicated parking spaces, according to 20 Minutes. For such a feat, the city of Paris is asking operators to release data on the use of the scooters and the recorded flows in order to install parking spaces in the locations that make more sense. It will work similarly to the way city bikes work nowadays.
However, these scooters are so useful that not even the police can resist utilizing them. Not too far from Paris, the city of Calvados in Normandy is running a three-month experiment with scooters not for the public, but for the police, which so far seems to be doing pretty well, according to France 3 Normandy.
Hacked scooters are making the headlines down under. After all, users can activate these GPS-enabled scooters remotely via a smartphone. It's no wonder anyone with hacking experience could take advantage of the system's weaknesses and reprogram the scooters to play, for example, racist and sexist messages. This is exactly what happened in Brisbane in April, according to News.com Australia: Riders reported scooters that, upon activation, would yell out things like "I don't want to be ridden." The Lime Queensland public affairs manager Nelson Savanh said he was disappointed: "It's not smart, it's not funny and is akin to changing a ringtone," he said.
Besides hacking, there's also the issue of glitches. Earlier this year, Lime pulled all of its scooters off the streets in Zurich and Basel after a glitch caused the front brakes to automatically activate when the scooters reached their full speed around 24kph. In the most serious of cases, reports The Local, a man fractured his elbow and another one dislocated his shoulder.
Bird electric scooters are now present in more than 100 cities — Photo: Wikipedia
E-scooters crowd the streets not just with riders, but also with those who collect and charge them. A guy working as a Bird charger (as opposed to a Lime juicer, as they like to call them) was caught by the police trying to move a mountain of loose Birds using a convertible in Venice Beach. The video is here, for comedy value:
Getting run over by a scooter is not news on its own. It's been happening pretty much everywhere since the machines started making the rounds, including in Latin America, where micro-mobility companies have been making large leaps into the market. But cities are responding pretty rapidly to these type of incidents.
For example, not too long after Movo from Spanish ridesharing giant Cabify launched in Peru, the municipality of San Isidro was forced to suspend scooters. This happened in April when a 63-year-old woman, who was eventually OK, was ran over, according to La Republica. Five days later the Ministry of Transportation and Communications published a resolution prohibiting the use of scooters on sidewalks, green areas and pedestrian crossings, as noted by El Comercio.