THE LOCAL

Scootergeddon: Electric Scooters Invade World Cities

Love them or hate them, electric scooters are changing the very ways we think about mobility and transportation in a city.

 Marcel Hutfilz, managing director of Scooterhelden on the streets of Berlin.
Marcel Hutfilz, managing director of Scooterhelden on the streets of Berlin.
Juan David Romero

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:

France

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.

Australia

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.

Switzerland

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

U.S.

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:

Peru

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.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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