Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Jerks Are Vandalizing All the E-Scooters

lloyd on a scooter

We need a whole box of tools to get people around without fossil fuels or cars. Shared e-scooters are a good tool if managed properly.

When it comes to transportation alternatives, we can't be doctrinaire but really have to try everything, to see what gets people out of cars and off fossil fuels. Shared e-scooters are a fascinating new approach; that's me above, riding one around Tempe, Arizona, and having a wonderful time. They are fast, they are easy to use, they are small, and unlike dockless bikes, they have to be managed so that they can be charged.

parked scooters in tempe

Parked scooters in Tempe, Arizona/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0But some people hate them. As Vivian Ho writes in the Guardian from San Francisco,

To those who hate them, they’re like an invasion from a dystopian robot future. To their fans, they’re the future of urban transport: green, high tech and fun. What is undeniable is that the rollout could hardly be described as smooth, with vigilantes decrying what they describe as typical tech industry hubris of companies profiting off of public spaces, expressing their displeasure through vandalism. Some have defaced the vehicles with profane stickers and feces. Others have tossed them into trash cans and trees.

And hundreds of them have been tossed in lakes and rivers. They drag dozens out of Oakland's Lake Merritt every month.

Many of the people who are angry about scooters are those who walk on the sidewalks, claiming that scooters get left everywhere and are trip hazards. But as I noted before, all people who walk, bike or scoot are fighting over the crumbs left over by the people who drive. If they had their fair share, there wouldn't be these issues.

One company, Scoot Networks, is going to try and beat the vandals by having their bikes locked to a station when not in use, after having more than 200 scooters vandalized or stolen within two weeks of their launch. According to the Wall Street Journal, they didn't expect this.

“Part of our assumption was that if the theft rate is really, really high and the vandalism rate is really, really high, there is no way these other companies would be in the business,” [CEO Michael Keating] said. “That ended up being an underestimate.”

It is indeed a difficult business. Even the manufacturer of the scooters, Tony Ho of Segway-Ninebot, wonders how companies like Bird or Lime will succeed if they are not bought out by a giant like Uber. According to the Financial Times:

Mr Ho said he believed that such a takeover was vital if scooter sharing were to become a viable business, saying it was “just a matter of time” before scooter start-ups hit the same kind of cash flow problems as Chinese dockless bike-sharing company ofo.

But Ho says, “One thing I can very confidently say is that the form factor of the electric kick scooter is here to stay.”

I certainly hope that he is right. Thinking about Gabe Klein's tweet, I worry once again about why we can't have nice things like scooters and a place to ride them. There are jerks in cars, jerks on bikes, and even jerks who walk, and there always will be. But right now there seem to be more jerks going on about scooters, which is a real shame. It is a great way to take short trips, they really don't take up much space, and there is a learning curve to every new technology as they find their place. It's another tool that has a role to play in weaning us off fossil fuels.