West Coast locals really hate scooters.
Once announced as the convenient and low-cost solution for short-distance commutes and in-town travels, rideshare scooters have descended into infamy and become the subject of near-viral notoriety. Irate locals aren’t exactly shy when it comes to expressing their disdain, either; more than a few of the shared vehicles have been unceremoniously tossed in the ocean, jammed into too-small trash cans, and even set on fire. Adding insult to mechanical injury, the destruction is often recorded and posted for posterity on social media.
For anyone outside of the West Coast, the pushback against a seemingly benign, if dorky, mode of transportation might seem a little, well, intense. After all, the scooters do appear to bring a lot to public transportation’s table. Companies like Spin, LimeBike, and Bird own fleets of bikes in cities across high-density cities in California and dedicate themselves to helping residents travel short distances easily and quickly.
Once riders download an app for the service they choose, they have the chance to pick up and drop off the electric vehicles wherever they need – often for a fraction of the cost of a taxi ride. Bird, for example, charges a flat fee of $1 and charges riders just $0.15 for every additional minute. Given their size and that their maximum speed hovers at fifteen miles per hour, scooters are regarded similarly to bikes when it comes to abiding by the rules of the road; they can be legally operated on bikeways and trails, though sidewalks are off-limits. For those who would prefer to avoid the cost and congestion of mainstream public transportation or private driving, a shared scooter might seem like the ideal vehicle for a short morning commute.
The low cost and easy access make scooters’ potential benefits are particularly striking for low- or mixed-income communities like San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. California legislators have already taken note; according to Bloomberg, a transportation committee in Los Angeles implemented incentives that would allow scooter companies to increase their fleets on the condition that the would expand into lower-income and underserved areas. Currently, however, scooters are concentrated in the more affluent areas of California such as Santa Monica, Venice, Hollywood, and Century City.
The benefits of scooter ridership seem near-boundless. Why, then, are people setting them on fire?
As it turns out, there are two reasons: flawed logistical planning and an widespread dislike of perceived entitlement.
Unlike shared bikes, publicly-available scooters do not require docking stations. Riders can leave them anywhere – and too often, they abandon their rides like oversized litter on public sidewalks, side streets, and roads. Users also occasionally veer – illegally, one might add – onto sidewalks, causing a dangerous disruption to the flow of foot traffic and inconveniencing those with physical disabilities who need the paths to travel safely.
This is all bad enough – but worst of all is the fact that by and large, mixed-income locals usually aren’t the ones causing the chaos; upper-income tech workers are. As reporter Andrew J. Hawkins describes the scooter stigma in an article for The Verge, the vehicles have a reputation for being “the product of Silicon Valley’s tech-bro ‘move fast and break things’ culture.”
As a general rule, communities don’t like their homes broken – or in this case, overrun with abandoned electric scooters – because of inconsiderate travelers.
That said, it seems wasteful, if not even self-detrimental, to cram all scooters in a trash bin and call it a day. The concerns locals have may not be expressed in the best way, but they are rooted in frustration. If cities can ease the source of that ire, they will eradicate the symptoms and potentially gain a host of benefits to commuters and lower-income communities.
The main difficulty with micro-mobility services lies in integrating new modes of transportation into the current infrastructure. Scooters, unlike shared bicycles, do not need to be dropped off at a communal docking station – nor do they require riders to return them after arrival. As a result, the abandoned vehicles can quickly begin to clog sidewalks at popular urban hubs and frustrate pedestrians.
Some cities are already workshopping solutions for rideshare clogging; Seattle, for example, is testing designated dockless parking spots to avoid bike pileup on busy sidewalks. The controversy over scooters has also led to several productive conversations about city transportation design overall – as Hawkins notes in the abovementioned article, “the scooters are an excellent avatar to discuss things like protected bike lanes, mobility, and livable streets.”
West Coast locals hate scooters – for now. As matters stand, the small vehicles are irritating, logistically inconvenient, and chock-full of untapped potential. If cities and scooter companies can find solutions to the problems that plague rideshare logistics, they may find that the people who originally wanted to dump the vehicles in the sea might just take them for a ride instead.