The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (May 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
A scooter-sharing system is a service in which scooters are made available to use for short-term rentals. The term describes the sharing of mostly electric motor scooters (also referred to as electric mopeds) as well as electric kick scooters. The sharing of scooters is similar to carsharing or bicycle-sharing systems; with some scooter-sharing companies offering more than one type of vehicle via their service.
Scooters are generally "dockless", meaning that they do not have a fixed home location, and are dropped off and picked up from arbitrary locations in the service area. This makes them a convenient mobility option for first-/last-mile mobility in urban areas.
The sharing of scooters has been around since 2012 when Scoot Networks launched their service in San Francisco. Scooter sharing has seen strong growth since 2017 with a majority of operations being concentrated in Europe. As of August 2018, the biggest fleets of shared electric scooters are found in Madrid and Paris. Growth has also picked up in the US, as Revel launched the first scooter sharing service in New York City in July 2018.
The first dockless electric kick scooter sharing services started to roll out in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles at the end of 2017 and have subsequently expanded to more cities in the U.S., as well as Europe. Rather than seeking regulatory approval, companies have quietly deployed scooters on sidewalks independently - essentially taking the approach of acting first, asking for forgiveness later. The market has grown aggressively, with some newcomers reaching a valuation of $1 billion in less than a year of operation, but causing significant disruption and backlash from local governments.
Controversy around kick scootersEdit
In San Francisco, in response to complaints from city supervisors and citizens both at public hearings and in the form of widespread vandalism, the city instituted a Powered Scooter Share Permit Program run by the SFMTA, limiting the number of companies that could operate scooters, and the number of scooters each could operate, enforcing removal of all scooters first.
Issues cited included riders blocking the sidewalk with parked scooters, and riding on the sidewalk rather than bike lanes, as well as the companies' strategy of scaling up their services in advance of regulation, rather than seeking a regulatory framework first.
I really want to send a message not only to these scooters [...] It would be very nice if the tech bros could come in and ask in a collaborative fashion for permission rather than after the fact forgiveness.
Similarly, LimeBike and Bird both stopped operations in Austin at the end of April 2018, in order to comply with new regulations passed by the city council. In Santa Monica, where Bird's headquarters are located, the company settled with the city for $300,000 for violating a city ordinance against operating a rental company without a license. Milwaukee has likewise banned Bird scooters and cited riders using them after they were placed in the city on the first day of Summerfest, citing Wisconsin Department of Transportation statutes regarding vehicle registration and the illegality of using them on the area's state highway and freeway systems.
In Portland, Oregon, shared scooters are supposed to be parked at the curb but there have been complaints that too many are parked where they block curb cuts. Vandalism has also surfaced in Portland, with nearly five dozen electric scooters and Biketown bicycles having been pulled from the Willamette River between June 24 and 26, 2019. Why the bikes and scooters were in the river is unclear.
Safety issues for usersEdit
The first fatality that involved a shared electric kicked scooter occurred in Dallas, Texas, in September 2018 when Jacoby Stoneking fell off a Lime rental scooter in the early morning hours while returning home from work. Stoneking died the following day at Baylor University Medical Center. It took two weeks for the Dallas County medical examiner to rule that the cause of death was blunt force injuries to his head. Stoneking was not wearing a helmet. Except for broken scooter parts, Dallas police did not find anything else at the scene of the accidents that would imply if another vehicle or person was involved and the accident is still under investigation. Lime claimed that the scooter was not defective.
Dockless electric scooter services can function only thanks to behind-the-scene-operations run by contractors, known as 'chargers,' who collect and charge the scooters. Some arrangements allow anyone carrying a smartphone with the proper app to become a charger, and get a prize for every scooter retrieved, charged, and delivered. The prize money and scooters becoming potential bait for muggers are parts of the safety equation.
Compared to the other forms of shared mobility, scootersharing can be more hyper-localized and can hypothetically better address the last mile problem. Because scootersharing does not have much market adoption right now because it is a new form of transportation, there are no academic studies that can effectively measure its impact. Overall, it provides urban mobility with fewer carbon emissions compared to automobiles. They take up less space than bikes, so they have potential to increase transit ridership to and from bus lines.
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