Photo: Zinkevych (Getty Images)
Electric scooters are officially a trend. Since their initial debut in San Francisco earlier this year, they’ve popped up everywhere. This new form of convenient transportation fills city sidewalks across America as regulators try to catch up. South Park‘s recent Halloween special treated the scooters like an invading force attacking the town. Whether you love their convenience or hate tripping over them, scooters are most likely here to stay.
Spin, one of the companies that started the trend, recently found a new home as a subsidiary of Ford. GM is building electric bikes that will be ready in 2019. Other, more established startups have also jumped on the trend, including ridesharing titans Lyft and Uber. It’s the type of gold rush that Silicon Valley thrives on, and its big investment in this mobile tech will make scooters more than a passing trend.
Electric scooter companies put the cart before the horse. They placed these 20 mph two-wheeled rockets around cities without any guiding principles. People don’t generally tend to flock to a technology if it injures them or if it blocks their way into work every morning. Startups recognize this, but their modus operandi is to stay afloat. They can’t afford to be too restrictive, so their entire enterprise turns into a citywide free for all.
Now, we’re all for the independent spirit when it’s appropriate. However, in the case of something as complicated as public transportation, putting the keys in the hands of organizations that can get things moving more smoothly is probably the best case scenario. Companies like Ford and Uber can work with cities to create docking stations or corrals for the scooters. They can ensure that safety measures are taken so that scooter riders don’t end up with broken arms. Most importantly, they can present the technology as helpful rather than harmful. This is already happening in places like Tampa, Florida, but the existing markets won’t change without some guidance.
Overall, this type of pedestrian technology is very much needed in most metropolitan areas where walking and using pollution-spewing cars might not be ideal. We all want to look back at that South Park special about electric scooters as a reminder of the bad times, not as a reminder of a passing trend. With a little help from cities and some actual investment behind them, that seems like the more likely future.