Should You Give Electric Scooters a Second Chance?

The much-debated electric scooter is making a comeback in American cities, and it might be time to reconsider your stance on these two-wheeled vehicles. Once criticized for cluttering sidewalks and causing chaos, scooters have undergone significant improvements in both technology and durability. Modern models boast ultra-efficient designs, enhanced safety features, and longer lifespans. As cities like New York and Washington reintroduce shared scooter systems, ridership is bouncing back close to pre-pandemic levels. If you’re looking to save time on short trips, reduce your environmental impact, and navigate busy urban landscapes with ease, scooters could be a game-changer — and they might just deserve that second chance. Should you give electric scooters a second chance?

A Glimpse Back in Time: Scootergeddon and Its Aftermath

In 2018, electric scooters seemingly appeared out of nowhere, taking over American city streets overnight. The result? A phenomenon known as “Scootergeddon.” Residents took an astounding 39 million scooter rides that year, but not everyone welcomed this new mode of transport with open arms. Sidewalks cluttered with scooters, doorways blocked, and pedestrians feeling unsafe turned public sentiment sour rather quickly.

Then, the pandemic hit. The once-bustling electric scooter market faced a sudden downturn. Companies went bankrupt, fleets dwindled, and the scooters themselves were abandoned, sometimes ending up in waterways. Paris even voted to ban rental e-scooters in April of that year, seemingly delivering the final blow. But fast forward to today, and scooters are making a comeback. Are they worth revisiting?

The Revival: Cities and Scooters Today

As downtowns across the U.S. come back to life, electric scooters are also making a significant return. Cities like New York and Washington, D.C., have embraced ride-share electric scooter systems once again, with rides steadily increasing. According to Everett Lott, the former transportation chief of Washington, D.C., scooters are now “a fundamental part” of the city’s transportation network. An impressive 17% of D.C. residents even say they use them.

From Chaos to Order: A New Era of Scooters

The initial chaos caused by the sudden influx of scooters was not entirely unprecedented. The arrival of automobiles on American streets decades ago was similarly disruptive. Cities simply weren’t prepared for this rapid change, and neither were the riders themselves. The technology was new, and safety measures were lacking, making for a rough start.

The Upsides: Why Scooters Deserve a Second Chance

Improving Your Commute

If you live in or near a big city, you’re likely aware of the terrible traffic situation. Americans are spending more time than ever stuck in traffic, with the number now exceeding 99 hours per year. This not only impacts your well-being but also takes a toll on the environment. Long commutes have been linked to higher blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, heart attacks, and even premature births.

Here’s where electric scooters come in. They can reclaim some of those lost hours for you. Unlike cars, scooters take up minimal space, and unlike buses, they take you right where you need to go. Most scooter rides are short, typically around 15 minutes and 1.5 miles, which can significantly cut down on travel time.

Studies have shown their impact: When Atlanta banned e-scooters and e-bikes in 2019, average commute times rose by about 10%, and even more, a whopping 37% during stadium events.

Climate-Friendly Commuting

From a climate perspective, today’s electric scooters are impressively efficient and durable. If you’re environmentally conscious, choosing between different modes of transport can be tricky. But compared to other vehicles, scooters stand out for their low emissions and high efficiency. They outperform even fuel-powered transit buses and some trains in terms of emissions due to their design.

The numbers are compelling: scooters turn electricity into miles without tailpipe emissions. And as our electric grid continues to decarbonize, the emissions associated with scooters will only decrease.

Addressing Battery Concerns

You might wonder whether the pollution associated with battery manufacturing is significant. The truth is, when averaged over a scooter’s lifetime, most global warming emissions come from burning fuel, not from producing the vehicle itself. This holds for both scooters and cars.

Give Electric Scooters a second chance

The Challenges: Addressing Safety and Infrastructure

High Injury Rates

It’s no secret that the early scooter days saw a high number of injuries. In 2023 alone, about 50,000 scooter rides ended with a trip to the emergency room. E-scooter riders were found to sustain more injuries per mile than bicyclists, largely due to the novelty of the scooters at the time. A staggering 40% of those injured were on their first ride, and 98% weren’t wearing a helmet.

Evolving Scooter Design and Laws

The good news? Both electric scooters and the laws governing their use have since evolved. Today’s scooters are built to last for around five years, compared to just two months for their predecessors. Many also now come equipped with sensors and software designed to avoid accidents, similar to self-driving cars. Companies can even slow down or disable a scooter remotely if the rider is breaking local rules.

Cities have also introduced thousands of miles of new bike and electric scooter lanes, many of which have become permanent fixtures. Scooter etiquette has improved thanks to public pressure and laws penalizing sidewalk riding and abandoned vehicles.

Making the Decision: Is a Scooter Right for You?

A Surge in Ridership

Major scooter companies have seen ridership numbers rebound to pre-pandemic levels — and in some cases, even higher. Shared ridership may have hit a record in 2023, with private ownership rising as well. Millions of people rely on them, and many more are likely to follow.

Scooters aren’t just convenient; they’re incredibly efficient. According to Noah Horesh, a research scientist at Colorado State University who studies transportation life-cycle emissions, scooters generate fewer emissions compared to most other vehicle types.

Understanding the Full Impact

If you’re evaluating the environmental impact of scooters, you’ll be pleased to know that they are among the most climate-friendly options. The emissions associated with electric scooters mainly come from electricity use, which continues to become cleaner as renewable energy sources grow.

However, keep in mind that scooters may not be suitable for everyone. While I’ve personally ridden many and found them useful, my family mainly relies on an e-bike.

Rethinking Urban Mobility: A Vision for the Future

Moving Beyond Cars and Scooters

The scooter debate often leads to broader questions about urban design and mobility. Rather than framing the issue as cars versus scooters, a better perspective might be to consider how to maximize everyone’s freedom to get around. This could lead to even more innovative forms of transportation.

The Netherlands as an Example

Take the Netherlands, where over a quarter of trips are made by bike. They didn’t achieve this by banning cars but by making biking as safe and accessible as driving. If we follow this example and design our cities for various forms of transportation, we could potentially create a more inclusive and accessible environment for all.

Adie Tomer, an urban economics and infrastructure policy expert at Brookings Metro, sums it up perfectly: “I’m not anti-car,” he says. “I’m anti-designing communities solely or primarily for the car.”

Creating an Inclusive Urban Landscape

We need to design urban landscapes that offer multiple modes of transport, thereby reducing congestion and promoting healthier lifestyles. In this inclusive environment, scooters can play a valuable role, offering yet another option for those navigating the busy streets of our cities.

Practical Tips: Making Your Scooter Experience Safer

Wearing Protective Gear

One of the simplest ways to make your scooter rides safer is to wear protective gear, most importantly a helmet. This can drastically reduce the risk of head injuries.

Following Local Rules

Always familiarize yourself with local electric scooter laws. Many cities have regulations to make scooter use safer and more convenient, like designated parking areas and restricted riding zones.

Starting Slowly

If you’re new to scooters, take it easy during your first few rides. Get a feel for the scooter and how it handles before venturing into busier areas.

Using Dedicated Lanes

Where possible, use bike and scooter lanes. These spaces are designed to keep you safer by separating you from car traffic.

The Future of Scooters: What to Expect

Technological Innovations

Expect more technological advancements in the coming years. From better battery life to more advanced safety features, the scooter of the future will likely be safer and more efficient.

Increased Integration in Urban Planning

As cities continue to look for ways to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, scooters will likely become an increasingly important part of urban planning. New policies and infrastructure will support a broader array of transportation options, including electric scooters.

Conclusion: To Scoot, or Not to Scoot?

So, should you give scooters a second chance? From a climate perspective, they are among the cleanest vehicles you can use. Technological advancements and improved regulations have addressed many of the initial safety and clutter concerns.

Whether you decide to embrace scooters or give them a pass, one thing is clear: they are here to stay. As our cities evolve, finding the best ways to integrate varied forms of transportation will be crucial. Electric Scooters might just be one piece of the puzzle in creating a more efficient, eco-friendly, and inclusive urban environment.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Scooters offer a convenient, environmentally friendly alternative for your daily commute. They’re not without their challenges, but significant strides have been made to improve their safety and integration into the urban landscape. If you’re looking for a quick, efficient, and green way to get around the city, scooters are definitely worth considering.

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