Electric scooters are a phenomenon that seem to have exploded overnight. The trend got a huge backing from tech giants Uber and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) last year after the companies invested $335 million into scooter startup, Lime. Another startup, Bird, also raised about $300 million, according to CNBC. Since then, companies like Lime and Bird can be found across the nation — and even the world.
In the short time that they’ve been around, electric scooters have forced people to rethink rideshares and transportation. What was once an industry dominated by cars has expanded to include bikes and, now, scooters. Electric scooters have obvious benefits to help explain their rapid growth.
After all, electric scooters are pretty easy to use. They operate without docks, which means you can pick one up and drop it off wherever. With roads becoming increasingly congested, it’s not a surprise that people may want faster transportation options, especially for short rides.
However, electric scooters have also faced backlash within multiple cities. The unfortunate reality of the United States is that it prioritizes cars. If urban planners design cities in ways that center cars, that means not only do they dominate the road, but they impact structures elsewhere. The emphasis on driving is part of why you’ll see so many cities with either tiny or absolutely no sidewalk space — which can make electric scooters annoying for pedestrians or outright dangerous for users if they’re forced onto the roads.
In cities like San Francisco, electric scooters began to completely take up sidewalks, and people would even dump them across wheelchair ramps or in doorways, according to the New York Times. That led to San Francisco issuing cease-and-desist notices. Plus, Santa Monica even filed charges against scooter companies.
Part of the issue with electric scooters’ rollout is that they just seemed to appear overnight. Another key factor is that cities just don’t know how — or aren’t equipped — to handle electric scooters. For example, bikes are a common alternative to cars or public transportation, and they’re allowed on the roads.
Some cities now require that electric scooters only be driven on the roads, but that can pose issues with bike riders. Bike lanes are already incredibly congested, so it’s a hard space to share with scooters that can go as fast as 15 mph.
If rolled out properly, electric scooters have the potential of bringing transportation into commonly underserved communities. Having access to transportation is vital for everyday life, but poor communities often remain underserved by public transportation.
Many cities have attempted to remedy the situation with bike-share programs, such as Philadelphia’s Indego. Electric scooters can’t just appear and then be expected to remedy systemic inequalities all by themselves. Cities need to create policies that benefit underserved communities and scooter companies need to be intentional about it.
Although electric scooters may change how we interact with transit now, their future is still uncertain.