E-scooters: Here to Stay?

E-scooters in ColoradoIf you’ve been to downtown Denver lately, there’s a good chance you’ve seen an e-scooter.  Maybe you’ve even rented one for a quick, cheap trip across town.  Zipping past gridlock for pennies per mile, while leaving a zero-carbon footprint?  What a great idea!  That’s fast, efficient, good-for-the-planet transportation!

But wait.  Where do you park that scooter, once you’re done with it?  What if you hit someone, or someone hits you?  E-scooters can go pretty fast… don’t you need a helmet?  Can your kids ride and if so, do they need helmets?  Wait, you mean you don’t carry bicycle helmets with you everywhere you go?  What kind of a parent are you?!

We’re joking.  But that quick trip across town might be more complicated than you thought.  So many questions, so few answers.

Will someone please put on the e-scooter brakes?

A Micromobility Experiment in Denver

Denver, like many cities, is in the midst of an experiment in micromobility.  Right now, there are about 2000 rentable e-scooters in the city, as well as 1000 rentable e-bikes.  The phenomenon is imported from China, and stateside tech companies are trying to normalize the trend here.  In March of 2018, under the Dockless Mobility Pilot Permit Program, Denver welcomed ten rentable e-scooter and e-bike companies until July of 2019, when their licenses will be renewed, or not.

Safety Concerns

Meanwhile, the law is chasing e-vehicles down the street, waving its arms.  When the experiment began, e-scooters were relegated to Denver sidewalks, but pedestrians quickly objected.  On January 7, 2019, the city changed course and consigned e-scooters to streets and bike lanes.  That brings up new safety concerns, not for pedestrians, but for e-riders.  Have there been injuries?  Yes.  Do you need a helmet?  Legally?  When there is an accident, is an e-scooter treated like a bike, a toy, or a moped?  Should you need a license to operate one?

What About Parking?

And then there is the issue of parking.  No one is complaining about e-bikes, which park in a bike rack or charging station when not in use.  But when an e-scooter’s job is done, it is left on the sidewalk until another rider comes along and unlocks it via credit card.  Charging/parking stations may seem like an easy solution, but they go against the rentable e-scooter business model.  Typically, e-scooter rental companies pay workers to scoop up the devices at sunset and take them home to charge, for about $5-$6 per scooter.  Same for repairs, at $20-$100 per scooter, depending on the extent of the damage.

Meanwhile, pedestrians must watch their step.  In the struggle for sidewalk space, will e-scooters be allowed to stay?

Denver’s Mobility Action Plan, written in 2017, gives a clue.  It calls for bold changes, including the reduction of single-occupant vehicle trips and an 80% percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  E-scooters and bikes, rentable or otherwise, seem like a good way to reach these goals.  At least, they’re a start.

Taking It Slow

But let’s not be too hasty.  Any new technology comes with a learning curve.  As many American cities (look up San Francisco’s Scootergeddon) and even China have found, some places are just not ready:

E-scooters

So when it comes to micromobility, let’s take it slow and do it right.  Carbon emissions are bad, but landfills are no good, either.

Article by Molly Fuscher