It’s a Bird, it’s a Lime, it’s an…e-Scooter?
September 20, 2018
In an age of technology and convenience, electric scooters seem to be the answer to transportation congestion in many cities.
Private companies that own the easy-touse e-scooters launched the vehicles in the U.S. a few years ago and have since turned them into a billion-dollar business.
In the years since the two-wheeled contraptions started popping up around the country, they’ve become popular around college campuses, including Santa Clara.
Once e-scooters hit the Bay Area, many students started using them as a cheap and easy mode of transportation as well as riding around for fun.
Riding the scooter, which can cost as little as a dollar, is designed to be as convenient as possible.
Santa Clara junior Gaby Ahlstrom downloaded the app for Bird—one of the most popular e-scooter companies—last year and uses the scooter to travel short distances when they’re available.
“I’ve ridden scooters to Safeway and 7-11 when I can find one outside of my apartment, but it’s definitely not a reliable form of transportation,” Ahlstrom said. “If there isn’t one just lying around, I don’t actively seek them out.”
Riders use GPS tracking to find the scooter nearest them, unlock it with the respective scooters’ cellphone app and head to their destination.
Once they get where they want to go, there’s no docking station or plug-in needed—riders can simply leave the scooters wherever they want.
The convenience of simply leaving the scooters on the sidewalk when riders are done with them is both what makes them popular for riders and what makes them a city’s worst nightmare.
The new e-scooters were welcomed as an eco-friendly form of transportation by city governments at first, but were soon banned from many towns after they started causing problems.
Cities like San Francisco and San Jose have either banned the scooters altogether or are working on laws to regulate this latest form of fast transportation.
Although there are laws surrounding the use of e-scooters, many riders either disregard them or are completely unaware of them.
For example, California state law says that the scooters cannot be ridden on sidewalks but can be parked on sidewalks, “so long as they do not block driveways, building entrances, curb ramps or utilities such as fire hydrants.”
California law also states that to use an electric scooter, riders must have a California driver’s license and must wear a helmet when using them.
People who have either used the scooters themselves or have seen them being ridden know these rules are rarely followed—especially the one forbidding scooters from sidewalks.
E-scooters can pose a variety of dangers, but Campus Safety Director Philip Beltran says no accidents or issues with the vehicles have been reported on campus thus far.
However, Beltran said he is cautiously optimistic because the school year has just begun.
“Three days into the school year — I’m waiting to see what happens,” Beltran said.
Currently, Santa Clara does not have a partnership with any of the e-scooter companies, but riding the vehicles throughout campus is allowed.
“The rules for e-scooters are the same as for our bikes and skateboards on campus,” Beltran said.
According to Millie Kenney, director of Parking and Transportation Services at Santa Clara, the school is looking into the possibility of partnering with an e-scooter company in the near future, a decision that would bring dozens of the vehicles to campus.
“We’re working with the city of Santa Clara to see if we can decide together which company we’d go for,” Kenney said.
However, if the school does choose to partner with a private e-scooter company, both Beltran and Kenney agree that there would be strict rules about where the scooters can be left after they’re used and where they can be ridden.
The university’s stead caution towards the electric vehicles reflects that of the city of San Jose as well as San Francisco.
According to SanJose.gov, the city is adapting a permit system to further “regulate scooter share programs,” which will be implemented later this year.
Other regulations include governments capping the number of scooters that a private business can have in a city.
For example, San Francisco recently imposed a 2,500 e-scooter limit for the companies that have permits to operate within the city.
Not only can the scooters pose dangers when they’re in use, there have been reports of people destroying the scooters in protest of them.
Some people who are fed up with e-scooters crowding already bustling city sidewalks have demolished the vehicles in extremely creative ways.
According to a Washington Post article from July, “some face death by bonfire, and others are flung into the ocean or tossed from the top of parking garages and bridges, shattering on concrete sidewalks or disappearing into murky waters below. Scooters have also been intentionally run over by trucks or torn apart.”
As the novelty of electric scooters dies down, less have been seen around campus compared to last year.
While local law enforcement and city governments may see this as a good thing, those who rely on the scooters for transportation are struggling with ways to inexpensively get from place to place.
“It was so nice when there were a lot of scooters around campus because I could always find one to take to Safeway or to my friends’ houses that are farther than I’d like to walk,” Ahlstrom said. “I really don’t want to have to go back to Ubering, which is way more expensive than using an e-scooter.”
Another group of people who are disappointed with the decline of e-scooters in the area are those who make money charging them.
Each e-scooter needs to be charged every night and companies give the public the opportunity to collect the scooters at night and make money by charging them.
According to junior Nick Kniveton, a charger for the wheel-sharing system company Lime, the company pays $6 to charge one scooter.
“When you get to the scooters you scan a QR code on them with your phone and then put them in the back of your car,” Kniveton said. “After you pick up as many as you can—my car will hold 12—you drive them back to your garage and plug them all into the chargers. Once they are fully charged you take them back and drop them off at designated drop off sites, which has to be done before 7 a.m.”
Kniveton said he sees less riders around the Santa Clara campus than he did a few months ago.
“I think it’s just due to the initial hype being over,” Kniveton said. “There’s still lots of low battery scooters by the end of the day which means that there are still plenty of people riding the scooters, but it seems like there are less people just trying them out for fun.”
Although the response to e-scooters has varied drastically city by city and person by person, many people are doubtful that this latest trend will stick around as a serious form of transportation.
A Bloomberg Businessweek article from earlier this month highlighted the newfound e-scooter trend and described it as a “seasonal activity at best,” saying that they would never replace motor vehicle transportation because of America’s “deep-seated automotive culture.”
The future of e-scooters may lay in the hands of college students, like those at Santa Clara.
Contact Kimi Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.