The Electric Scooter Uprising

Electric scooters are taking over the United States, but not without any controversy. Issues aside, electric scooters may be one of the best approaches for increasing micro-mobility in the United States.

The Electric Scooter Uprising

By Amalgam Staff.

“selective focus photo of four Bird electric scooters” by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Electric scooters are taking over the United States, but not without any controversy.[1][2][4][5][6]. Many local residents across the country are concerned that electric scooter riders are a public safety hazard, and generally an unwanted annoyance to have around.[3].

Issues aside, electric scooters may be one of the best approaches for increasing micro-mobility in the United States. [4].

Rise and Public Opinion

“person sitting on white concrete pavement holding blue balloon at daytime” by Nguyễn Minh Chiến on Unsplash

Electric scooters gained popularity this year seemingly out of nowhere!

Electric scooters are rentable in more than 60 cities distributed all across the United States (i.e., any medium to large city should have rentable electric scooters), and based on Populus’s The Micro-mobility Revolution report, 3.6% of people out of 7,000 surveyed (252 persons) reported using electric scooters. [4][5][6].

Additionally, the report found that public opinion was 70% favorable to electric scooters, and electric scooters attract more diverse group of users, especially women. [4].

Electric scooters are great for micro-mobility as riders can easily and quickly traverse short distances around a city without all the hassles that come along with driving such as traffic and paying for parking. [5].

Major Companies

The major electric scooter rental companies are or have emerged are Lime, Bird, and Spin (“Rental Companies”). [7][8].

All three are based out of California and have raised more than $200 million in the past year in funding from venture capitalists. [8].

Electric Scooter Rental Model

In general, Rental Companies use the following model:

  • mobile app;
  • dockless storage; and
  • electric scooter. [5][7][8].

Mobile App

Renters use a mobile application to scan for nearby electric scooters, unlock access to the electric scooter, provide payment information, and lock scooters after the trip has concluded. [8][5].

Dockless Storage

In a dockless model, renters are not required to pick up nor return electric scooters to any particular location. [7][5]. Contrast this with a dock model, where renters are required to pick up and return electric scooters to a particular location. [5].

Electric Scooter

Most rentable electric scooters come equipped with an electric motor and have a top speed of 15 miles per hour.[7]. Rides are very inexpensive, for example, Lime costs $1 to unlock and $0.15 for every minute. [9].

Lime & Bird Example

The “mobile app” aspect of the dockless model works very similar to Uber and Lfyt’s ride-hailing model where renters will use a mobile application to rent an electric scooter for a period of time. [7].

However, since this is a dockless model, the electric scooters are not required to be dropped off in the same place they were rented, rather, they can be dropped off at any location. [7][5].

Riding with Scrutiny

The fast adoption of electric scooters in cities across the United States has raised public safety and regulatory concerns. [4][5][9].

Primarily, concerns revolve around:

  • Dangerous riding practices; and
  • Rental companies violating local laws.

Dangerous Riding Practices

Many are against electric scooters because riders exhibit bad behavior. [5][7][9][10][11][13][14][15].

For example, the Instagram account, ScootersBehavingBadly, archives rider’s bad behavior, such as riders leaving scooters packed on top of each other in inappropriate locations.[5].

Further, riders are exhibiting bad riding practices as many drive without a helmet, the wrong way on a one-way street, and even running through stop signs.[5]. Furthermore, riders are leaving their scooters in the middle of public sidewalks, inhibiting other pedestrians to make use of the sidewalk. [5].

Electric scooters have also been involved in quite a fair number of accidents. [3][5]. For example, an incident in Santa Monica, California caused “a severe head injury and a broken arm.”[3][5].

Rider behavior has also received the scorn of local law enforcement, who complain of riders violating local laws. [13]. For example, in Tennessee, local law enforcement has cited riders for unlawfully riding on sidewalks in a business district, and even parking scooters on sidewalks.[13].

Many are also concerned with riders violating local laws and regulations, such as riders in San Francisco violating local laws by not wearing a helmet.[7].

The local violations are compounded by riders also violating Lime’s and Bird’s own operating rules.[7].

Lime “rules” require riders to be at least 18 years old, wear a helmet, have a driver’s license, follow local traffic rules, press the handbrake to stop, and properly park by the curbside.[9].

Bird’s “rules” require riders to to be at least 18 years old, wear a helmet, have a driver’s license, follow local traffic rules, and properly park by the curbside.[18].

Many riders are violating Lime’s and Bike’s operating rules in addition to local laws by not wearing helmets.[7].

Lastly, electric scooters have been involved in a number of accidents.[15; See Reference].

Rule Violations Galore

Rental Companies problems not only lie with the behavior of their riders, but their own relationships with local governments.[5].

Rental Companies took the Uber and Lyft approach to expansion, whereby they simply appeared in cities, with little to no correspondence with local governments about obtaining permits, business licenses, and other regulatory requirements.[5][7].

Local governments in San Francisco, California, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Nashville, Tennessee, and in other cities have taken action against the companies so they can formulate an appropriate regulatory framework.[5][7][13][17].

For example, the City of Santa Monica sued Bird for operating without a business license.[3]. Additionally, the City of San Francisco ordered all electric scooter companies to stop operations until they applied for permits with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).[5][7].

Conclusion

Beyond the public safety concerns and legal issues, electric scooters show a positive move in the right direction to provide more micro-mobility services mobility service.[4][5].

Electric scooters provide a cheap and convenient alternative for short rides than driving a vehicle or using a ride-hailing service.[4][5]. Additionally, they may help people who live in the city who need to navigate the city but cannot afford a private vehicle.[4][7].

With the positives provided by electric scooters, local governments will be rushing to issue regulations to help their growth and most importantly, to get misbehaving rental scooter companies and riders back in line with local laws and regulations.[7] [19][20].


References

[1] Bird, https://www.bird.co/

[2] Lime, Locations, https://www.li.me/locations.

[3] Joshua Emerson Smith, Is Southern California’s ‘dockless’ electric scooter fad a public safety hazard?, The San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/environment/sd-me-scooter-safety-20180305-story.html, Mar. 6, 2018, 5:00 PM.

[4] Regina Clewlow, The Micro-mobility Revolution, Medium: Populous, https://medium.com/populus-ai/the-micro-mobility-revolution-95e396db3754, Jul. 24, 2018.

[5] Samantha Raphelson, Dockless Scooters Gain Popularity And Scorn Across The U.S., Nat’l Pub. Radio, https://www.npr.org/2018/08/29/643058414/dockless-scooters-gain-popularity-and-scorn-across-the-u-s, Aug. 29, 2018, 4:29 PM ET.

[6] Umair Irfan, Electric scooters’ sudden invasion of American cities, explained: Turns out there’s a lot of latent demand for a quick and cheap way to get around, Vox, https://www.vox.com/2018/8/27/17676670/electric-scooter-rental-bird-lime-skip-spin-cities, Updated Sep 7, 2018, 12:24 PM EDT.

[7] Kayla Matthews, Regulating San Francisco’s Electric Scooter Problem, The Drive, http://www.thedrive.com/tech/20950/regulating-san-franciscos-electric-scooter-problem, Jun. 4, 2018.

[8] Mike Murphy & Alison Griswold, Electric scooters are flooding California, and they’ll be on your sidewalks soon, Quartz, https://qz.com/1257997/electric-scooters-are-flooding-california-and-theyll-be-on-your-sidewalks-soon/, Apr. 21, 2018.

[9] Lime, Electric Scooter, https://www.li.me/electric-scooter.

[10] Peter Holley, Police: Man dies after apparent electric scooter accident, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/09/04/police-man-dies-after-apparent-electric-scooter-accident/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.49aba28e1a4f, Sept. 4, 2018.

[11] Forrest Milburne, A LimeBike electric scooter crash sent a Dallas woman to the ER. Is the company liable?, Dallas News, https://www.dallasnews.com/news/transportation/2018/07/12/limebike-electric-scooter-crash-sent-dallas-woman-er-company-liable, Jul. 12, 2018.

[12] Jordan Harlan, Bird and Lime-S Electric Scooters: the Latest Craze or Newest Hazard?, Harlan Law, Professional Corporation, https://harlanpc.com/bird-lime-s-electric-scooters-latest-craze-newest-hazard/, Feb. 24, 2018.

[13] Adam Tamburin, Motorized scooters like Bird and Lime are ‘a major problem’ in Nashville, cop says, Nashville Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/09/07/scooter-electric-bird-lime-problem-nashville-police/1224480002/, Updated Sept. 7, 2018, 8:21 PM CT.

[14] Nellie Bowles and David Streitfeld, Electric Scooters Are Causing Havoc. This Man Is Shrugging It Off., N.Y. Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/technology/electric-scooters-are-causing-havoc-this-man-is-shrugging-it-off.html, Apr. 20, 2018.

[15] Claire Cudahy, Lime electric scooters pose challenges for South Lake Tahoe law enforcement, Tahoe Daily Tribune, https://www.tahoedailytribune.com/news/scooter-struggle/, Jun. 18, 2018.

[16] Bird, How it Works, https://www.bird.co/how.

[17] Natalie Allison, Bird scooters are back in Nashville as Lime launches its service, Nashville Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/08/31/lime-scooters-launch-nashville-after-city-approves-regulations/1153159002/, Aug. 31, 2018, Updated 4:24 PMCT.

[18] Bird, Safety First, https://www.bird.co/safety.

[19] Madeleine List, Providence sets regulations for renting electric scooters, Providence Journal, http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20180810/providence-sets-regulations-for-renting-electric-scooters, Updated Aug 10, 2018, 10:18 PM.

[20] Adam Brinklow, Gov. Brown loosens electric scooter rules, Curbed: San Francisco, https://sf.curbed.com/2018/9/21/17888224/jerry-brown-helmet-scooter-laws-sidewalks-escooter-electric, Sep 21, 2018, 1:30 PM PDT.


Originally published on 2018-10-28 on Medium.