They are light, fast and fun, a real alternative to driving. But we can't have nice things.
Forty thousand Americans were killed by cars last year. The IPCC says we have twelve years to limit climate change catastrophe. People in cities are dying from particulate pollution and our streets are congested with cars.
Meanwhile, a class action suit has been filed in California to ban clean, compact and convenient e-scooters. According to the Washington Post, "The lawsuit accuses two of the largest e-scooter companies, Lime and Bird, as well as other e-scooter firms, of 'gross negligence' and 'aiding and abetting assault.'"
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of eight initial plaintiffs, says the companies' practices have contributed to injuries in multiple ways. By “dumping” scooters on public streets without an appropriate warning, the suit alleges e-scooter companies acted negligently and should have known that their devices would become a dangerous “public nuisance.”
I was in Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona this past weekend and got to try the e-scooters for the first time. I never got the Lime scooter to work, but spent some time on a Bird scooter and it was a joy. I found the scooters to be really useful for stop-and-start tourism, and they had less impact than, say, a big bike share. I saw a few in odd places but nothing like the tales of them being all over sidewalks and being obvious dangers.
Besides, they are hardly the imposition on pedestrians that cars parked on sidewalks are. But many are complaining that people should not be using them on sidewalks, as they often complain when people ride bikes on sidewalks. That's because we give 90 percent of the road to people in cars while the rest of us fight over crumbs. Whereas if the roads were allocated fairly, the big metal boxes would have a lot less space, the bikes and e-scooters would have a complete network of dedicated lanes, and these conflicts wouldn't happen.
The thing about these scooters is that they are easy. You just open the app and scan the QR code, hop on, go to where you are going and hop off. They could replace many short trips in cars and shorten many long walks. I wanted to take it all the way to the airport. This technology could make a big difference in cities.
For all of you who keep reminding us scooters will only get more well-designed—@SafeSelfDrive @HaveAGOMobility—Lime's new vehicle has fatter wheels, better suspension, and a clearer interface. pic.twitter.com/x7aNt7YuYT— Alissa Walker (@awalkerinLA) October 22, 2018
As Alissa Walker notes, it is also a really new technology and the kinks are just being resolved. As they become more common, the problems on the sidewalks will be resolved and the unfortunate interactions will be reduced to the occasional jerk, as they are with people on bikes or skateboards or sidewalk drivers now.
I have never seen such a smile on TreeHugger Bonnie's face; these things are fun. They are also going to be a legitimate form of urban transportation. They are better maintained than dockless bikes (they have to be, as they have to be gathered and recharged; they cannot just be left for days), they take up less space, and they are easier to use.
There have been injuries. The Washington Post describes a street performer dancing in a gladiator outfit being hit; my first thought was that he shouldn't be in the sidewalk either. There have been a few deaths, notably a scooter rider struck by the driver of an SUV. Who is to blame for that one? There will likely be more injuries as people who walk, bike and scoot have to fight for leftover space. These are a new form of transportation and there will be a learning curve as people and cities adapt. I can see why some people are complaining.
Or one could also look at e-scooters as another very useful tool in the fight to reduce congestion, to clean our air, to reduce our carbon footprint. One could welcome them and make room for them. They are terrific.