Welcome to another post in the “I tried it” series. After spending nearly a week relying on electric scooters exclusively for transportation around the city, I have some insights to share.
Maybe you saw the SouthPark episode (or two) making fun of scooters and their riders. Perhaps electric scooters have already arrived in your town. If not, resistance is futile and you can bet they are on their way. So let’s dive into this new transportation craze.
Why electric scooters?
We take over 200 Billion car trips each year. That’s a crazy number. What’s even more mind-boggling is that nearly 40% of those rides are under three miles! So clearly there are gaps in existing transportation networks and plenty of room to improve.
Small electric scooters are a great way to get around. They are fun and easy to use. These devices have a friendly learning curve. Even if you aren’t very athletic, you can learn to use one in just a few minutes. Scooters are a great way to enjoy the outdoors, reduce carbon emissions, and ease traffic congestion.
In less than 5 minutes, you can download the app, find a scooter and ride away. I’ll chat more about that below.
It’s better for the planet!
As a society, we are becoming more aware of our impact on Mother Earth. People want better options for transportation that don’t pollute the air or our environment, but still get us where we need to go.
Companies have heard our consumer cries and are creating reliable transportation options meeting this criteria. Electric scooters, when used instead of other transportation methods, help reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.
In the span of a year and a half, one electric scooter company had over 50 million rides, which equates to a reduction in more than 6,200 metric tons of carbon. Carbon that never entered the atmosphere and isn’t contributing to global warming and climate change.
Scooter companies are even taking responsibility for carbon emissions made in the scooter production process by supporting carbon offset projects. Others are implementing changes so scooters can be charged with 100% renewable energy.
Making your morning commute carbon-free and supporting companies that use renewable energy is a great way to start the day! When you choose to travel by scooter instead of drive, you also lower the number of cars on the road and help lessen traffic and congestion.
Fun fact: About 10 electric scooters can fit into one traditional car sparking space.
Scooters are a great transportation option in cities. If you don’t have a vehicle, or if taking the bus or subway won’t get you close enough to your destination, scooters can do that!
It’s catching on with riders. The first year two major electric scooter companies operated (Lime and Bird), they both saw over 10 million rides each.
It’s a BIG business.
Scooter companies are worth a lot in the eyes of investors. Two of the major electric scooter companies have valuations of over 1 billion dollars with some valued closer to 2 billion dollars. As long as cities and residents can get on board, this scooter craze (fueled by copious amounts of funding from eager investors) won’t be slowing down.
Where is it?
Electric scooters have already launched in several major cities, and are rolling out in new places seemingly every day! Businesses can even partner with electric scooter companies to offer employee perks and transportation options. There are also university partnerships who aim to expand this micro-mobility to school campuses.
Who can scoot?
Scooters are a great option for anyone over 18. Most apps ask you to scan your driver’s license or ID card, to prove you are old enough to ride.
How’s it work?
(The two main scooter companies in my area are Lime and Bird so my post will be mostly focused on those options.)
Getting the app:
- Download the desired electric scooter app (you can find it in the App Store or Google Play Store).
- The first time you log in, you’ll need to fill out a profile. (The standard information for name, address, etc.) You may also be required to take a picture or scan your driver’s license to use certain brands of electric scooters.
- Upload payment info and you’re all set.
How to use an electric scooter:
- Open the app and look at the map to view nearby scooters.
- Find a scooter and scan the QR code. It’s either on the handlebars or on the footrest of the scooter.
- Unlock your scooter.
- Put your helmet on, and you are ready to ride!
- Cities have their own laws regarding helmets and electric vehicles. Your local DOT will have specific information on helmet laws where you ride.
- Stand on the scooter and push off with your foot a few times, then while coasting, use your thumb to push the throttle.
- That’s it. You are headed down the road.
- Use the hand brake to slow and stop the scooter.
When you are finished, remember to officially end your ride via the app. This will stop the timer and charge accrual for your ride and it locks the scooter, so it is ready to be used by a new rider.
Basic scooter safety tips:
Always follow helmet laws for your city. I recommend wearing a helmet anytime you are on an electric scooter. There are electric scooter companies that will send you a helmet for free (you just pay the price for shipping). There really is NO excuse not to wear one.
Only ride your scooter where allowed. This is in a designated bike lane and not on a sidewalk.
Obey all traffic laws. A scooter is a ‘two-wheeled vehicle’ so obey the traffic laws as a car or bike would.
Park the scooter away from pedestrian walkways or accessibility ramps.
Speed and range:
Most cities where scooters operate have laws that limit the top speed to roughly 15 mph. Scooter companies have speed capabilities right at 15 mph or slightly less.
As an added safety feature, some scooters have added ‘geo-speed limiting‘ features. This GPS-based feature causes the scooters to automatically slow down when they are ridden in an area high in pedestrian traffic. For example, in Boston, the Charles River esplanade area is often packed with pedestrians. This is an area targeted for automatic speed reduction by electric scooter companies.
The scooter range is about 20 miles depending on speed and use. You can easily check the battery level via the app to know how much charge your battery has left. The battery is splash-proof, which is great if you are riding through rain or other wet conditions.
The scooter battery charge is monitored by local and independent teams. When an electric scooter is running low on charge, someone from the scooter team will retrieve it, charge the battery and then redeploy it out into the community.
How much does it cost?
Most scooter companies charge a fixed rate to unlock a scooter, around $ 1 dollar. Then a ‘per minute’ charge is added as you ride. These ‘per minute’ rates can change based on the city, time of day, or the day of the week you ride.
Of note: Most scooter companies are required to offer options for low-income residents via an equity program that provides discounted access to electric scooters without requiring the use of a smartphone (because not everyone owns a smartphone). Your individual city can provide more information about how to apply to these programs and use an electric scooter without a smart phone.
So, now that you have the basic logistics, I’ll provide my anecdotal review based on several days of using scooters exclusively for transportation in and around Boston.
Let’s start with the good:
Getting started. So, it really is fairly intuitive to get started on an electric scooter. It took longer to register my account and get both my driver’s license and credit card loaded into the app than it took for me to get started ‘scooting’ down the road.
There were plenty of scooters available in my area and the map was accurate and easy to use to locate one. My SO and I were scooting together and we were easily able to locate two scooters every time we went out.
It’s a fun experience as long as the weather cooperates. I felt good knowing I was making a positive choice for the environment each time I chose to scoot instead of drive. It was also cheaper than taking a ride-sharing option.
I am also lucky to live in an area with several designated bike lanes. Bike lanes are where scooter riders should ride.
Interestingly, in some cities, electric scooter companies are donating $1 per electric vehicle, per day, to city governments. This fee is supposed to be applied to new infrastructures such as bike lanes or other needs. Maybe this can help soften the reluctance some cities experience related to scooters invading their areas?
I felt that the scooters were easy to use, accelerated smoothly (and quickly) and braked effectively. Some of the brands of scooters we used made a noise as we were braking, which seemed like a nice way to alert others to our intentions. Seemed…see more about that below.
Parking pictures. This is an interesting, but necessary addition to the electric scooter riding experience. (Thankfully) gone are the days where you can just litter the sidewalks and streets with abandoned scooters. Remember that SouthPark episode I was referencing, turns out it wasn’t so far off from reality.
During my scooter experience, each time a ride was ended, I was prompted to take a photo of where I parked it. This is to prevent obstruction of accessibility ramps or sidewalks. It also helps ensure scooter parking is compliant with the city’s requests so electric scooter companies can stick around in these cities.
The not so good:
No one knows what to do. Let me explain. I mean the cars have no idea what to do with a scooter rider on the street, even when you are in a designated bike lane. Cars honk and swerve, which is terrifying.
Pedestrians also have no idea what to do. Often, because you ‘aren’t a car’ they just walk right in front of you (again, this is on the road, not a sidewalk). You have to keep your head on a swivel and be prepared to brake at all times just to stay safe.
The ride itself is rough. The tires are ‘solid core’ which basically means they are hard plastic and don’t have any give or bounce. It’s not like a bicycle tire that has air inside. This leads to a super bumpy and jarring ride. Especially if your streets are in rough shape like ours are in Boston! So. Many. Potholes!
Oh, and since I initially mentioned this under ‘good’ (the noise that a scooter makes when you are applying the brakes), that’s been officially moved under the ‘not so good‘ category.
In theory, it makes sense. A noise that alerts to braking can be a safety perk. In practice, the noise is so quiet, and the cars are so loud, unless you are braking right next to an already stopped or parked car with the windows open, they will not hear it. If you are riding with someone, and they are in front of you and braking, you will also not hear the noise. Also, there are no brake lights on a scooter, to give a heads up to those behind you. Great in theory, lacking in execution.
Also, and perhaps this is just a local issue, but when we parked our scooters for brunch, we received a warning about extra fees for leaving the scooters in certain areas.
I can only imagine this is because electric scooters were deployed in certain parts of Boston, and then removed and months later, deployed in different parts of the city that were approved for scooters.
I’ve been checking my credit card statement for a fee and will keep you posted. So, depending on how far you are traveling (each of our trips were under 3 miles) you may be at risk for an added fee.
One final and important comment under this category.
Hospitals and emergency rooms in multiple cities have reported spikes in severe accidents after scooters launched in their areas. A quick internet search can provide shocking stories and statistics.
There have been reports of everything from broken arms, concussions, property damage, and unfortunately even deaths related to electric scooters.
Now, don’t let that totally scare you away from electric scooters. If you looked up the statistics and reports from when automobiles were first introduced, they actually have some pretty startling statistics too. The same can be said for bikes.
So be informed, and understand the risks before you try an electric scooter. And in case you missed it, wear a helmet. Please!
Who else is getting in on the scooter business?
There are currently 12 companies vying for a share of the electric scooter market. Some notable names include Uber and Lyft (of ride-sharing fame) as well as companies Skip and Scoot.
Ford Motor company even wants in on the scooter scene. They just bought the scooter company Spin. So I believe it’s safe to say that scooters aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
My overall take away:
It’s a yes! I will definitely use an electric scooter in the future. Especially on a sunny day and for any trips that are only a few miles. Bonus points if I can travel on a less heavily trafficked road to get there.
I will also absolutely remember to wear my helmet.
Scary fact: Less than 1% of all scooter riders wear a helmet! If you look up the percentage of concussions related scooter use, you’ll definitely want to ride with a helmet.
I hope this article was informative and helpful!
Have you jumped on the scooter craze yet? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you!