Op-ed sections in most major United States newspapers have published at least one article in the last few months lamenting or berating this summer’s most visible change in urban transportation—the mobile-hailed, electrically powered scooter.
The gripes are generally the same from city to city: they litter the sidewalks, interfere with pedestrian and vehicle traffic, people can use them under the influence of drugs or alcohol, there is no experience requirement, helmets are not required or provided, and some anecdote about someone tripping on a discarded scooter.
These are legitimate complaints, some more so than others, but they should not be taken as condemning personally rentable, electric transit vehicles in general.
Ride-hailing is not a viable alternative
Car-ride hailing companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Grab infiltrate a city’s market by pricing their services in competition with public transportation (not to mention traditional taxi services). Rather than reducing the amount of cars on the road, (which Uber actually claimed as its goal), they disincentivize busses and trains in cities attempting to bring them into more regular use.
Same companies, different models
Scooters are designed (albeit by a lot of the same companies that offer ride-hailing services) in conjunction with public transportation systems, and in opposition to the private automobile cityscape that has emerged in American cities over the last 50 years. A collection of them at a transit hub enables one to take a mass transit line as close to your destination as possible, after which everyone branches off on foot or by rented scooter or bicycle. it almost sounds natural. compared to the tradition of sitting in rush hour traffic for two hours while checking your car’s embedded GPS for alternate routes, its certified organic.
The clientele of scooter-users is easy to misjudge as well; if you’re in an affluent, downtown area it might seem like they are mostly used by wealthy under 35’s hopping between cafes and boutique restaurants. But records show the average income of a scooter rider to be under $50,000 per year, and not exclusively in gentrified/gentrifying neighborhoods. Implemented correctly, scooters could actually resist and change the urban landscape away from prioritizing enclosed, time-consuming, and environmentally destructive private vehicles.