Blip! The screen flashes as the QR scan completes and a soft whir of the motor starts to purr. Your ride is ready. Click! You snap your helmet on—wait, no you don’t. Have you ever seen anyone wearing a helmet on when riding one of these? Not just that, but how many people do you think run through the registration of an e-scooter account even though they are under eighteen, don’t have a driver’s license, and dash by pedestrians on sidewalks (all violations of the scooter policies)?
“I used them frequently at the end of summer break. I ride a bike to school now but I would still use e-scooters if I needed to get somewhere and I didn’t have a bike,” says Oliver McFadden (12), a user of the scooters. “People need to use them right. That means riding them mostly off the sidewalks and parking them in thoughtful places.” McFadden sees them as a way to help lower the use of cars for short distances as well as to relieve congestion in the city.
I personally think that these scooters are a great idea. They’re on this mission to fix the “last mile” problem, in which a reliance on cars for short distance travel has created more traffic congestion and pollution. I do not use these scooters, but I think they are given a bad reputation by certain riders obscuring their good intentions and purpose. Sure, they’re fun to use the first time with your friends, but once you start using them practically, you find yourself getting from one place to another for more important reasons: work, school, or even catching a bus.
Sometimes when I’m downtown I see groups of, often younger, people riding them around. Some are riding by on the streets in a pack, cruising through downtown from point A to Point B. Others are zooming by pedestrians on the sidewalk, leaving behind a scowl and bad impression. The interactions that are remembered are people disrupting quiet parks, piles of scooters all over the sidewalk, and of course, those that are thrown into nearby rivers (at least 17 have gone under so far, according to scootersintheriverpdx.com). This has brought on a drastic public view that has only hurt their reputation as a rentable transportation company, a staple of our modern era.
Sam Oeding (12) used to work with Lime, charging their scooters and riding them frequently. “I usually use them when going to the soccer bus before the game because then I don’t have to worry about locking my bike up or wasting my energy,” Oeding says. Although that is a very specific use, the lack of commitment that comes with a scooter is very attractive. “Despite Portland’s great public transportation system, there are some places that are either pretty far from the nearest bus or max stop and there are just some places where it isn’t worth getting on public transport because it just wouldn’t be worth the walk to and back from the stop. The scooters are a good solution to this problem because they provide this really easy and accessible mode of transport that can get you to your doorstep.” This emphasizes that their use spans from the whole trip to the last mile home.
“Most of the people I see riding scooters are young and able bodied and by [the scooter’s] nature, exclude less able folks or elderly to safely travel upon them,” says a Portland Lyft driver. “I see these more as a summer time fun get about than a serious transportation alternative.” With Lyft and Uber already taking off as easy modes of transport, the scooters are trying to fill a role that doesn’t need to be filled. When asking other drivers about the situation, they thought of them as “an added danger on the road as riders would hop from sidewalk to road and ignore the rules of the road completely.” One driver informed me on the recent death involving an e-scooter accident in Washington DC, a second for the nation. This highlights that these scooters may seem simple, but are vehicles that travel along the same streets as cars and trucks, and have absolutely no protection for the driver.
It’s a difficult topic to cover because the idea and intentions behind these scooters are noble (to help the environment), but the application of them to the public has resulted in dispute. They are affordable ways to help those getting from place to place where transit use is not practical. If people stopped having a bias against them and treated them with even an ounce of respect, then as a society we could deal with this situation much better. This means leaving them in accessible locations, using them less obnoxiously, and allowing their trial period in Portland to finish off to accurately analyze them.
Were these scooters introduced too fast? Was there too little instruction? Maybe. In this modern age we live in, dockless scooters are not out of the ordinary. People ride around on Nike’s Biketown bicycles and get picked up by Lyfts and Ubers all the time, so what’s wrong with another rentable transportation method? They’re helping close the gap in travel distances, and even providing quick money for those who need the extra side jobs. They help society in more ways than one. So next time you see someone on a scooter drive past and you grumble to yourself, think about those who need these, whose lives are made easier by their purpose.