E-Scooters
Get ready to zip through town like never before. (Illustration by Francesca Mahaney, Pratt Institute)
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E-Scooters

They’ve been popping off in urban areas, and for good reason.

Are you thinking of switching up your commuting game? Among the growing list of ways to get around, e-scooters have been gaining popularity in the micro-mobility world, and they’re worth checking out for those who want to try a less conventional mode of travel. Although they’ve been gaining some notoriety due to safety issues, e-scooters can hold their own and are rightfully gaining fame.

So, here’s what you should know before jumping on the bandwagon:

What in the Sam Hill is an E-Scooter?

Simply put, an e-scooter is an electric scooter. Motorized scooters have actually been around since the early 1900s, and the design hasn’t changed much in a hundred years. The vehicles have two wheels and are battery-powered, with handles that operate the accelerator and brake. Basically, they look identical to the Razor scooters we rode as kids, but instead of kicking and pushing (and constantly getting hit in the ankles), the e-scooter does all the work for you.

You can buy an e-scooter at the store, but the latest transportation trend is the rideshare scooter. Not only is it battery-powered, but it’s also dockless (meaning riders don’t have to park it at a station) and is connected to your phone. There are several scooter-share services across the country, and they work like most bike-sharing programs: download an app, use the map to find available rides near you, scan the scooter and start cruising across town. Most hit speeds up to 15 mph and can go about 15-20 miles on a single charge. Riders can expect to be charged by the minute, but the scooters are extremely affordable — a five-minute ride usually costs less than two dollars.

Where to Scoot?

The top names in scooter-sharing include Lime (which was recently bought by Uber), Bird, Spin and Bolt; Lyft has also launched their own line of e-scooters. The scooters can be found nationwide, although they’re mostly popular in metropolitan areas. For safety reasons, most cities that allow e-scooters have specific areas where you can ride. For example, Lime’s map displays the green zone (where riding is allowed), low-speed zones and no-ride zones. If a scooter enters one of the latter zones, it will either cap its speed or stop functioning entirely (the future is now, folks). In addition, the motor locks up between rides and beeps if an unauthorized user tries to move it.

Is it Really Worth the Hype?

E-scooters sound like a fun, novel idea, but are they really any better than the dozens of other transportation options out there?

There are actually several positives to using a scooter. Like I mentioned earlier, they’re significantly cheaper than other types of rideshares. Obviously, they’re also much slower — don’t expect that you’ll be able to zip to the other side of town in a New York minute.

But their slow pace doesn’t seem to hinder their viability as alternatives to cars. According to the CEO of Bird, Travis VanderZanden, 40% of car rides are under two miles long, and if commuters opted to scoot instead of drive for even half of those trips, we could shave 2 million metric tons off our yearly CO2 emissions, as explained by the Environmental Protection Agency. Leave the car at home for short trips, and you’ll also reduce traffic congestion and improve travel time for all commuters.

They’re also much easier to use, compared to a bike or traditional kick scooter, so while you might not be getting as much exercise, e-scooters are more accessible, especially since they’re more compact and lightweight. Additionally, most e-scooters are dockless, so you don’t have to wander around the block in search of a station to park it when you’re done.

The e-scooter business is already quite lucrative. In two years, Lime has already given 50 million rides, and Lime and Bird are worth over $1 billion and $2 billion, respectively — impressive numbers, considering the two companies didn’t exist before 2017.

Scooting Safely

If this all sounds appealing, you’re probably getting ready to download a scooter-share app, but it’s important to take some safety precautions prior to riding, especially since e-scooters are becoming infamous for causing injuries and even deaths among users. Scooters are not toys; they’re capable of serious damage, just like any other vehicle. However, when used properly, e-scooters can be a safe, fun and green way to get from point A to point B.

First, as a safety measure, scooter-share services require riders to be 18 years old with a valid driver’s license. Of course, you should always wear a helmet. (It’s what your mother would have wanted.)

Second, look up your local laws on scooter usage. For example, in California, riders must stay off the sidewalks, but if your city has adequate accommodations, such as a bike lane, it’s a smart practice to avoid the sidewalk in general, even if it’s not required, because while 15 mph might not seem like a dangerous speed, a crash can seriously injure the rider or an unassuming pedestrian.

If you have to use the sidewalk, reduce your speed and avoid heavily-congested areas. The apps do a nice job of walling off undesirable scooting areas for everyone’s protection, but it’s always a good idea to be mindful of your surroundings.

Lastly, when you arrive at your destination, don’t just leave your scooter anywhere you please. Lime instructs their riders to avoid parking scooters in obstructing areas but, inevitably, some riders do not follow the rules. This has led angry pedestrians and business owners to dump the scooters into lakes and rivers, which only adds to the list of reasons why some cities want to ban e-scooters entirely.

Final Thoughts

E-scooters are another option on the long list of efficient transportation methods we have access to in the modern world. With scooter-share services like Lime and Bird commissioning their use, there are many affordances provided by e-scooters in urban areas: they’re easy to find and use, inexpensive and provide a viable, green alternative to gas-guzzling vehicles. If riders make sure to take a few safety precautions — and city infrastructure works toward inclusivity of micro-mobility on the roads — e-scooters are likely to become a legitimate mode of travel.

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