How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Electric Scooters

2. Scooters are cluttering sidewalks, roads and other public spaces.

This anti-scooter case was made most memorably by a columnist at The Los Angeles Times who complained that “these electric scooters are everywhere — roads, sidewalks, street corners, parking lots, boardwalks, apartment complex hallways — beeping while stationary and whirring when rolling, ridden mostly by stoic mannequins in flip-flops.”

It’s true that scooters have gone from nonexistent to ubiquitous in a matter of weeks — one morning, I counted more than 100 within a few blocks of my hotel. But their visibility is a function of their novelty. We don’t view parked cars and bus stops as eyesores, even though they’re everywhere.

This isn’t just about clutter — cities are worried that parked scooters will impede wheelchairs and block entrances. But there are easy solutions here. Just as we have parking meters for cars, cities could designate scooter parking areas on every block, and begin ticketing riders who leave their scooters in the middle of the sidewalk. Companies like Bird — which already pay armies of contract workers to recharge their scooters at night — could also give users small rewards for clearing badly placed scooters out of the way.

3. Scooters are annoying symbols of tech-world elitism.

Some people object to e-scooters on political and symbolic grounds, claiming that they represent everything that is wrong with the tech industry. Critics have taken aim at their perceived elitism (you need a smartphone and a credit card to use scooter-sharing apps) and the sudden, permissionless way they were rolled out in cities, which fit a pattern of bad behavior set by tech companies like Uber and Airbnb.

It’s true that scooter companies have not exactly covered themselves in glory. They have invited a backlash by flooding the streets with scooters with no explanation and little or no contact with local officials. As these companies grow, they will need to prove that they can cooperate with regulators, rather than trying to circumvent them.

But there’s nothing inherently elitist about e-scooters. (In fact, at between $2 and $5 for most rides, they’re price competitive with public transportation, and far cheaper than services like Uber and Lyft.) And while e-scooter companies have moved brazenly into new markets, they have also shown some willingness to compromise in cities like Austin, Tex., where local officials required that scooters carry licenses and proof of insurance.

David Estrada, Bird’s chief legal officer, told me that the company had cooperated with officials in Miami and other cities to plan orderly rollouts. He said the company obeys local laws and doesn’t introduce scooters in cities, such as New York, that expressly prohibit them. But he said that cities tended to drag their feet on new transportation policy, and that seeking pre-emptive approval for e-scooters could take years.

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