Scooters Galore

The assertion that the humble scooter was invented in Germany in 1817 is plausible, but invention dates and details of often controversial.  It just makes for a too-neat history: 200 years from a simple toy-like vehicle of small wheels on a piece of wood with a handlebar to the founding of ‘Bird’, the Santa Monica-based electric-scooter start-up.

Reportedly, Bird’s valuation, nine months in, has doubled, recently, in just two weeks from $1 billion to $2 billion. And now 2018 is being called the “summer of the scooter,” which also seems a bit much, but may be heralding more than a passing trend.

Bird’s ‘ascent at hyperspeed’ is due to a number of factors.  Its business model combines all the magic ingredients: an easy to use smart phone app, reliance on GPS locator technology, the appeal of ride-sharing, and the cool vibe of electric-power mobility.  Both Bird and its competitor Lime have websites streamlined to message that everything about finding a scooter, riding it, and then finishing with it is super-easy, walk-away, don’t look back.

Have a look at www.bird.co and www.li.me.  The psychology of the market is also in play.  A recent Vanity Fair magazine article on Bird quoted an investor saying: “If I’m being honest, it feels like a short-term trend, … It already feels like a lot of the (fear-of-missing-out) FOMO-stricken players and firms who missed out on companies like Airbnb or Uber are diving in.”

The cities in which these services have ‘launched’, however, are finding they need and want to stand back.  In late July, Beverly Hills voted to ban the devices for six months, following similar edicts and warnings in places like West Hollywood, Seattle, Saint Paul, Nashville, Boston, and Miami.  In doing so, Beverly Hills expressed its willingness to meet with scooter companies to “establish clear guidelines for possible future use of the devices within the City,” but added that the ban was out of “concern for public safety.

Scooters traveling at speeds up to 15 mph alongside both pedestrians and other vehicular traffic are proving hazardous.  One city spokesperson reportedly said, “Police have responded to several injury-involved vehicle collisions involving motorized scooters.”- it’s going to happen!

Another concern—also a safety issue—is parking or, more to the point, the non-parking of them in ways that, the police say, obstruct “the normal movement of traffic and create a hazard.”  While the business model specifies paying locals to round them up each night, charge their batteries, then drop them off at designated sites the next morning, the Los Angeles Times newspaper reported recently that workers at Santa Monica Beach and Venice have seen piles of scooters tossed into the ocean and into trash cans. It seems that SoCal residents already fed up with the electric scooter craze are cleaning up the problem their own way.

The NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, is currently working on a soon-to-be-released report about the general state of scooter sharing.  In the meantime, the Centre says it expects the companies to keep expanding into more cities—and into the agendas of legislators trying to regulate one of the newest trends in transportation.