Transport by Electric Scooters: Are Our Cities Ready for Micromobility?
The rise of electric scooter fleets in cities around the globe happened almost overnight. By making transportation fun, they quickly took over a new market share and provided not only an easy way to travel but one that also prides itself in being sustainable. First becoming popular on the West Coast of the United States, scooters migrated eastward, eventually sweeping across Europe as well. Easy to maneuver and a convenient solution to get from place to place, we have to ask- can cities handle the accelerating rise of scooters and other forms of micromobility?
Micromobility is a broad term used to describe e-bikes, scooters, and skateboards. While the market is relatively new, its highly innovative approaches to implementation have jumpstarted the creation of dozens of companies. Research by McKinsey projects that the electric scooter market in Europe alone will be worth more than 150 billion dollars in the next decade, and double that in the United States. In the beginning, one of the main strategies to bring scooters to the masses was to drop them in high-foot trafficked areas to attract customers as quickly as possible- before city planners and officials had a chance to get involved. As people began to popularize this new form of mobility, governments were forced to quickly take action, oftentimes placing temporary bans on scooters- but not without rebuttal from the people who had found a new way to get around town. By the time that both sides would come to an agreement, the only feasible arrangement was that they could be ridden- but where? And by whom?
The 2018 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” pic.twitter.com/8EZvkUfbsO
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One of the phenomena that occurred when these scooters were introduced was that they were adopted at an extremely rapid pace, even faster than bike-sharing, and also appealed to a wider demographic of ridership. They were also seen as greater convenience, especially with the ability to drop them off anywhere instead of having to search for the nearest bike rack. Scooters also solve the problem of the “in-between” distances. If your apartment is just a little too far from the train station, maybe riding a scooter is the best way to get there.
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However, there are still many issues that come with having scooters introduced in our cities. Two major companies, Bird and Lime, faced multiple lawsuits from riders who were injured, and much backlash from cities who experienced the cluster of scooters often thrown down haphazardly onto sidewalks. In 2018, San Francisco banned three scooter companies. Later that year, the city of Los Angeles accused multiple scooter companies of “aiding and abetting assault.” As quickly as it became a fad, scooter riding became somewhat of s nuisance, and people began to wonder if cities were well equipped for them. For decades there’s been a push to find means of transportation that are more cost-effective and sustainable. Although this offers a solution, the logistics of scooter ridership have yet to become fully debated and implemented by local municipalities. Cities are already struggling to find ways to make bike riding easier and safer, so how long will it take before we can do the same for scooters? So far, only New York City and London have stood the test of time and have begun to embrace the potential that scooters bring. Even further exacerbated by the pandemic, essential workers began to use them as a way to quickly deliver food.
In the future, the success of electric scooters won’t come from public interest- it’s already there. These companies need to partner with city officials and perhaps, more importantly, urban planners, to explore how riders can safely find, ride, and drop off scooters. Adding another type of mobility into city planning may seem daunting, but if anything, it will force our cities to become functional machines, where choosing how you transit just becomes another part of daily life.