January 16, 2019
Find out how your favorite e-scooter zoomed onto the scene.
Some new company has joined the streets and sidewalks of cities all over the nation and it’s the electric scooter. Cars, buses, bikers and trains have been making room for the new-age scooter, one that’s powered by an electric motor and lets your get from point A to point B in no time. They’ve caused quite a buzz among city populations and governments who have expressed a mix of feelings, ranging from a total embrace of the electric vehicle to annoyance to warranted concern. While the electric revolution has kicked off in a sense, there’s still a long road ahead. Here’s the inside scoop on the scoot and three cities that are laying the foundation for the expansion of electric scooters.
What’s an Electric Scooter?
An electric scooter is a two-wheel motorized vehicle equipped with a board to stand on and handle bars. Riders get into motion without having to move their legs. If this is hard to visual, think - Razor scooter plus Segway, set in 2018. Most electric scooters can travel up to 15 miles per hour.
The need for quick, easy and inexpensive transportation to travel shorter distances paired with the emergence and boom of the rideshare industry has led to the creation of rideshare electric scooters. Bird, Lime, Skip, Scoot and Spin are among the pioneers of electric rental companies All you need to do is download a scooter company’s app and connect your credit card to start riding. You can use the app to locate and connect to a nearby scooter and ride to a destination for just a $1 to start and 15 cents every minute after that. When you’re done, you can simply park your dockless scooter where you end up, and since it’s connected with a company, another rider can locate it on their own app for use.
What’s All the Fuss About?
There are both pros and cons when talking electric scooters. One positive sentiment about them is that they have given urbanites a way to get around their city without having to hassle with driving, finding a Lyft or public transit. The mode of transportation appears to be ideal for shorter distances, which big, compact cities are a mecca for. Electric scooters offer an affordable option for transportation.
While the concept seems well-intended, the new and shiny rideshare scooter business still has the logistics to figure out. The disruption of the new kid on the block or, in this case streets and sidewalks, has caused angry pedestrians and drivers. Because scooters can be left wherever a rider chooses to park it, they can become hindrances in the environment they reside. Most sidewalks and roads have not been created for scooters in mind, and in many cities, these electric vehicles are not allowed on sidewalks—forcing riders to take the streets. So, while there are bike lanes that scooter riders can share with cyclists and indirectly cars, these bike lanes end and scooters are left to aimlessly ride on streets that have not been fool-proofed for the evolutionary vehicle.
Rider safety is another top concern. With uneven sidewalks and the threat of getting hit by traffic, riders ride at their own risk. Helmets are encouraged and required by law in some states, but with the rule so loosely enforced combined with the rideshare e-scooter concept of being able to pick up a scooter from wherever you are, it’s likely that riders aren’t wearing them or don’t have a helmet on hand.
How Are Companies Combatting Negative Perceptions?
Negative perception is bad for business and electric scooter rental companies are rolling up their sleeves to fix this using various tactics. Many companies are now asking riders to prove that they are parked in an appropriate spot. To promote the idea that electric scooters can be the key to creating accessibility to lower-income populations, companies have proposed discounted rides for those who qualify in the a lower-income bracket. Users can also donate a part of their fare to a non-profit on some scooter apps. The hope is that little initiatives like these will ultimately have a big impact of lifting negative perceptions.
Major Cities Setting the Precedent on Electric Vehicles
Just like how only select cable TV providers are allowed to service designated regions, cities have to approve of certain electric scooter companies.
In San Francisco, a ban on scooters was enforced last June after scooter companies deployed their scooters unannounced and unapproved, causing disruption to the hilly streets and sidewalks. The city has now found a solution in an e-scooter pilot program, selecting Scoot and Skip as the two companies allowed to operate a designated number of scooters in the city. Controlling the size of the scooter fleet available is a way for cities to control the amount of scooter traffic. These two companies were chosen based on multiple factors but one of their main selling points was the “lock-to” mechanism that prevents the vehicles from getting in the way of pedestrians on sidewalks. Furthermore, Scoot requires riders to watch instructional videos before taking off.
Washington D.C. has also set a standard for electric scooter companies to follow. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will permit up to 600 electric vehicles for each company starting 2019, with the potential to grow their fleets each quarter by 25%. They also currently have a pilot program with five participating e-scooter operators, Skip, Bird, Lime, Lyft and Jump (owned by Uber). Companies can apply for the permit next year if they agree to maintain “good stewardship of public space, vehicle safety and maintenance and adherence to data sharing conditions,” says DDOT.
Cambridge, a city within the Boston metropolitan area, has taken a hard stance on electric scooters and has put a stop on the use of them in order to develop proper procedures for handling them amid its dense urban planning grid. In actuality though, these electric vehicles are technically illegal under Massachusetts state law, which requires powered scooters to have brake lights and turn signals. While the city coordinates with its municipalities to pave a regulated path for scooters, e-scooter companies might need to additionally consider some upgrades to their vehicles in order to be even be allowed on the streets.
The electric vehicle revolution has begun. These major cities are shaping the way electric scooter companies are going about their entrance and also figuring out on their end, how to effectively integrate the scooter as a regular part of traffic and transportation.