One day, a few months ago, I was walking down the street in Washington, D.C. when the first Lime Scooter I ever saw skirted in front of me. As a Californian, I grew up around tech bro arrogance. I never really thought it might grace my precious political haven in the mid-Atlantic. As I watch scooters’ popularity grow more and more, I am quickly realizing that this is not a trend for “tech bros” or “arrogant” people: it’s easy and accessible to everyone.
As a preface for “scooters” as a concept, this is not the first movement in ‘micro mobility’ that the United States has seen. In the early 20th century, the “kick scooter” everyone knows from childhood was motorized. This awesome image shows suffragette Lady Norman on her motorized autoped in 1916.
I’ve been in DC for the past few years, and the transportation isn’t lacking. There are metro and bus systems. We have car share apps like lyft, uber, and via, all of which have carpool features. We also have an incredible nonprofit, Capital Bikeshare, helping residents rent a bike for a few hours and dock it when they’re done. Quite frankly, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I definitely didn’t feel like there was a huge market for any new transportation companies.
But there are a few things that I did not consider. I personally never use bike sharing apps, and almost always walk or take the bus. And for women in D.C., that is extremely common. I knew I had options, but they weren’t really the ‘perfect’ option.
Scholars from MIT and the University of California- Berkeley at the Populus, a San Francisco based transportation data and analysis company conducted a study about the growth of what they call “micro-mobility services” across America. They surveyed over 7,000 people in 10 major U.S. metropolitan areas.
Long story short: 70% of the population studied viewed these micro-mobility services favorably. Instead of an 8 minute $10 uber ride, scooters are a convenient, and much cheaper option. The study even says these apps are helping decrease transportation equity gaps in these major cities as well.
While bike sharing services are predominantly used by men by a factor of 2x to 3x, scooters are actually more supported and adopted by women. Lower income groups are also more likely to adopt these scooter services. Lower income groups, who were previously privy to public transport like the metro, are even more favorable to these technologies to higher income groups.
But then there is a major safety concern. These scooters can travel up to 15 mph, and they don’t have any support for you if you were to crash. These technologies are too new to have regulations on them. No one wears helmets while riding the scooters. My friends will often ride 3 people to one scooter. And there aren’t any speed regulations. Anecdotally, researchers and doctors are claiming a rise in injuries relating to micro mobility devices like the scooters. At the end of the day: how is a person on a scooter going to be affected if they are hit by a car?
To solve this problem, some people are calling for a major redesign of the centuries-old U.S. infrastructure. Let’s think back to the beginning of the U.S.: before cars were huge, there were so many ways to get around. In my beautiful home city San Francisco, there were horses, some cars, and cable cars. And people designed the streets to reflect that. Most major streets in San Francisco have designated 10 mph lanes. That allows for bikes, scooters, skateboards and other options to move safely.
But most cities were not designed that way. Cars are, really, the main way people move in America, the roads seriously reflect that. But cars are awful for the environment. AND if we look at the newer trends around micro mobility, clearly people want to move around on scooters, or at least options like that. If we want to continue to see growth, we need to restructure the ways cities move.
Scooters are a great option to move around cities. They’re easy, not too expensive, and I personally think they’re more appealing than a bike. Not to mention they are sustainably chargeable. If we want to see growth in an industry that clearly has demand, society needs to completely readjust to accommodate what might become the future.