The Real E-Scooters Story Is Much More Boring Than Media Coverage Suggests

Photo:  Nathan Rupert/Flickr/CC
Photo: Nathan Rupert/Flickr/CC

What if venture capital-backed firms dumped thousands of private scooters in American cities and … it mostly worked out okay?

There has been a lot of hyperbolic  news coverage since scooter companies such as Bird and Lime entered markets in places as diverse as Santa Monica and Indianapolis. CBS Sacramento warned of “scooters set on fire and thrown into the ocean by people fed up with clutter.” KABC 790 in Los Angeles reported that scooters were “likely to be hazardous to users.” A writer in the LA Times offered only anecdotes in her apocalyptic story, headlined, “Bird scooters — so much fun, so damn dangerous.” The preview paragraph said, “People are getting hurt. Very, very hurt,” but the story offered no hard statistics.

In fact, e-scooters have been in many cities for several weeks now. And genuine analysis — as opposed to wild hot takes — has been far more positive.

The Dallas Morning News reported that local police say scooters aren’t causing any major issues. Executive Assistant Chief David Pughes told the paper there have only been four injuries since May 1, and they’ve been minor. And also — unsurprisingly — there appears to be no tie to crime. Police report only a couple incidents of people using scooters in a crime and say there is no reason to suspect the crimes wouldn’t have occurred anyway.

That aligns with what’s happening in Portland as well. Jonathan Maus of the news site Bike Portland writes that the experiment is going fine:

We’re almost three weeks into the City of Portland’s electric scooter pilot program and things seems to be going very smoothly. The injuries and deaths many predicted would befall reckless scooter operators haven’t happened. And the sidewalk obstructions and right-of-way issues appear to be no worse than before the scooters got here. Yes, there have been some immature people who’ve destroyed a few of them and we hear there are people downtown stripping them for parts, but those are expected outliers and not a really big deal.

Much of the scary news coverage has no doubt been motivated by fear of change — and, indeed, traveling by e-scooter in cities is a novel idea. In addition, the industry has been dominated by big tech firms who dump their products into public space first and ask for permission second (or not at all). As a result, cities like Louisville are scrambling to ink agreements with billion-dollar companies under tight timeframes.

But the hyperventilating about e-scooters obscures an important fact: Cities must focus safety efforts on drivers, who kill and injure urban residents at numbers that are hundreds if not thousands of times higher than the supposed danger of e-scooter users.

  • Tim Hoover

    I like the scooters and have used them. My biggest problem is really user ignorance. People ride the wrong way in bike lanes. They ride in the road with traffic on streets with protected bike lanes. They ride too fast in pedestrian areas. They ride in pedestrian-only areas. The parking habits also leave a lot to be desired. People can’t seem to figure out kickstands. They leave them in places that block the right-of-way. We need a scooter etiquette course in our city.

  • othesick

    they suffer from the same issues caused by any mode of transport. the users. we can be hostile or design around them. the choice is ours.

  • Tim Hoover

    I sure hope that’s true. I don’t know what cities could do in the way of design to get people to use kickstands or not ride the wrong way in a bike lane (seriously, there are already arrows. How dumb is that?) But yes, scooter “corrals” and more protected bike lanes, yes, totally.

  • Only Bananas

    One very simple solution that was mentioned is to use a gyro sensor in the scooter to determine if the scooter is upright. Users can then be warned/educated/banned when they don’t park correctly. Staff can also find those that were knocked down. Also they would have hard data to prove that users park them correctly and that this is mainly a vandalism issue.

  • Cynara2

    In other words, exactly the same as bikes.

  • Jason

    Scooters not being parked upright isn’t even necessarily a vandalism issue. They’re not that hard to knock over by accident, especially if the kickstand is a little wobbly. And then if you’ve got a bunch parked next to each other, knock one over and they all topple like dominoes.

  • Cynara2

    “But the hyperventilating about e-scooters obscures an important fact: Cities must focus safety efforts on drivers, who kill and injure urban residents at numbers that are hundreds if not thousands of times higher than the supposed danger of e-scooter users.”
    E scooter “users” are drivers. Overwhelmingly, it is pedestrians being killed by vehicles. Some advocates promote driving them on sidewalks. Do you really expect pedestrians to feel safe walking in front of an oncoming electric vehicle heading directly toward them in the crosswalk? The biggest problem we have is pedestrian safety. Why add to the problem with electrified alternative vehicles that will not respect the vulnerability of pedestrians?

  • crazyvag

    I think JUMP solved this problem best with an integrated U-Lock which sort of forces you to lock up the bike upright – and bike racks / parking meters are typically out of the way.

    And if you see bunch of them on the sidewalk because there’s nowhere to lock them, well, use the complaints not to fine companies but as data points where to add more bike racks. You don’t need any studies to figure out where either.

    You also curtail the theft problem at the same time.

  • crazyvag

    I find that most of these problems happen where city has failed to install bike lanes. In SF, SOMA has more Muni lines than actual bike lanes – never mind protected lanes.

    Scooters on sidewalk is no different than delivery truck double-parking because there aren’t commercial zones on a given block.

  • Daniel Lunsford
  • Certainly not. Motorized vehicles on sidewalks are taking away from scarce space in New York . They are moving, not parking.

  • Not really if the parking is in the walk lane and obstruct pedestrians,

  • Will the gyro sensor tells you whether the scooter is on a sidewalk, where it should not be ?

  • crazyvag

    Depends on your definition of ‘obstruct’. Trees obstruct sidewalk too, so as long as they don’t stick out further than existing trees, it’s fine.

  • Good point . But Trees add value to walking and they are not movable.

  • ComplexConjugate

    Better example: parking meters obstruct sidewalks.

    Though, my favorite solution is to reclaim one car parking space per block as bike/scooter parking.

  • jsallison

    It’s going to be difficult enough for drivers to learn to coexist with newly built streetcar track in OKC that switches lanes in non-obvious places, now they get a crash course in trying to keep tabs on oblivious scooter texters at the same time. This will work out nicely…

  • Rick C

    “that switches lanes in non-obvious places”

    Sounds like the Orwellian-named technique of “traffic calming”.

  • alboalt

    I agree with the tweet above. E-scooters may work, but this “lets dump them on the public sidewalks and see what happens” thing is bogus.

    Plus you’re basically littering, and if someone wants to drop that litter into a dumpster, fine with me.

  • Quancho

    Video cameras are everywhere now. That sort of vandalism is going to land the haters in the clink.

  • Quancho

    How about if I ride my scooter and you drive your car and each of us minds his own business?

  • Quancho

    Who cares how they “feel,” as long as they are in fact safe?

  • Only Bananas

    It’s legal to park a scooter on a sidewalk. You can park your privately owned scooter there too.

  • Certainly not. Sanitation has rules preventing any object obstructing the sidewalk. If you can park anything on the sidewalk where are millions of pedestrians going to walk ? The sidewalk is not a warehouse or parking lane, it is a walking, moving lane. Can you imagine parking your scooter in one of the car lanes ?

  • tonguetiedfred

    Or “Smart Growth”

  • othesick

    ”feel” is important for many reasons. if people feel safe they feel more relaxed. if people feel more relaxed in an urban space this increases staying times. if people stay in a place for longer they are more likely to spend money there. this is good for the economy.

  • Don’t mind @Cynara2, who is absolutely obsessed with attacking active transportation of all forms as far more dangerous than it actually is, while giving a pass to motorists.

  • In fact “traffic-calming” refers to an approach that changes the feel of a street so that it is actually a calmer experience. Nothing Orwellian about it at all.

    There are mediocre planners who take this or that tool out of the traffic-calming toolbox and throw it on the ground as an obstacle, thereby not calming anything. But that’s not really traffic-calming, and real traffic-calming works much, much better.

  • Only Bananas

    You are wrong. It is legal to park scooters on sidewalks next to street furniture or anywhere it doesn’t block the way.

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