Do Electric Rental Scooters Go Too Far?

Joape Pela isn’t your normal lanky tech bro. Sure, a 30-year-old East Palo Alto internal lives in downtown San Jose and works as a remuneration researcher during internal startup Finxera. But a former University of Utah football player’s 6-foot-3, 320-pound status finished him heedful of one trend quick gaining traction with his startup brethren: electric scooters.

“I was surprised. They have some jump,” Pela says of a inclination that started to seem on San Jose streets this past February. “It felt flattering good, carrying a breeze blow by my hair and all that.”

The let scooters paint a latest trend in a pity economy that’s changing a universe of transportation.

The city of Santa Cruz’s bike share complement has seen some-more than 5,100 trips given a program’s unaccepted launch on May 7. The pedal-assist electric Jump bikes concede riders to find, haven and compensate for them, all by an app on their phones. The bikes are $1 for a initial 15 mins and 7 cents for any notation after that, nonetheless $30 monthly skeleton are also available.

Over a hill, meanwhile, cities like San Jose have zipped full-throttle into a subsequent frontier.

And Pela is one of many San Jose residents, commuters and business owners navigating a remarkable presentation of hundreds of scooters permitted by dual deep-pocketed app providers. San Mateo startup Lime has lifted $132 million to offer on-demand common bikes and scooters in San Jose and some-more than 50 other cities nationwide. Bird, a startup formed in Santa Monica, is corroborated by $115 million and focused only on e-scooters.

New riders can set adult an comment in mins by downloading a giveaway app, uploading a credit label and similar to terms of use that embody parking out of a open right-of-way and wearing a helmet. Bird also requires users to indicate a current driver’s license. From there, users who compensate a prosaic $1 fee, and 15 cents per minute, can use a app’s map underline to find an permitted scooter and take a design of a QR formula to transparent a device.

The scooters, tranquil by a elementary palm stifle and brake, can strech a speed of 15 mph and reason a assign that lasts adult to 18 miles. In San Jose, that lacks discerning movement options, a scooters alternately attract regard from constant users, madness for clogging open sidewalks, doubt about safety, and critique as a viewed messenger of gentrification—controversies that also approximate pity economy services such as Uber, Lyft and other programs.

Claire Fliesler, a Santa Cruz travel planner, says that Surf City has no skeleton to pursue a scooter complement during this point—as leaders have their hands full perplexing to make bike share as strong as possible—but she adds that internal officials have been following a issues as they reveal in other cities.


The pretence with scooters: They’re only problematic adequate to make them tough to regulate.

“There was no concurrent plan for introducing a scooters to a street,” says Colin Heyne, a orator for a San Jose Department of Transportation. “Not surprisingly, we didn’t have a routine around e-scooters.”

Concerns a city has listened mostly embody illegally roving scooters down sidewalks, users dispatch scooters on lawns during a finish of a float and riders not wearing helmets. As a result, scooters have emerged as a latest singly 21st century doubt of where a company’s shortcoming ends and a city’s or consumer’s begins.

“Riders are compulsory to conform a law, yet coercion is formidable for us,” says Sam Dreiman, Lime’s executive of vital expansion for California. “In some ways, it’s an even bigger doubt of how most we can make or should enforce.”

If companies try to evasion coercion responsibility, though, it’s not transparent possibly a city is prepared to step in.

Both San Jose and a state are hashing out first-ever attempts during regulations designed privately for e-scooters, yet San Jose’s aren’t due until September.


Take a outing to Diridon Station during rush hour, and it’s transparent that commuters in Silicon Valley are already seeking alternatives to a region’s decades-old mass movement systems. From foldable bikes and electric skateboards to a occasional span of inline skates or out-of-date Razor scooters, prolonged commutes and already-overflowing BART and Caltrain cars have pushed a non-car-dependent to get creative.

In some ways, Silicon Valley is late to a celebration that formulation wonks impute to as “multimodal civic mobility,” where destiny travel systems mount to ring some-more options than 20th-century cars, trains and buses.

Fast-growing cities in China, for example, have already spent a improved partial of a final decade perplexing to figure out how electric scooters of varying sizes can coexist with electric bicycles and other automobile alternatives. Automakers like Hyundai and Toyota have denounced their possess high-tech scooter prototypes in new years, and Lyft in late May signaled an seductiveness in rolling out e-scooters in San Francisco.

“It’s only really dear to use cars to make brief trips, generally in cities,” says Ratna Amin, travel routine executive for Bay Area civic formulation consider tank SPUR. The arise of scooters and other smaller-scale alternatives, she says, “require us to now consider differently about a streets.”

For a past several months, scooters have been a huffy theme in San Francisco, where a proxy anathema on them went into effect on Monday, Jun 4, as a City by a Bay gets a needing module in order.

E-scooters’ some-more new attainment in San Jose has been remarkable by a far-reaching operation of reactions.

“Bros are racing app let electric scooters outward my apartment,” San Jose Sharks digital media coordinator Ann Frazier wrote on Twitter. “This is now normal bland life in downtown.”

Dueling opinions between people who possibly adore or adore to make fun of a use flush roughly as quick as a scooters themselves.

In San Jose, Lime scooters were a initial to appear, in late winter, Heyne says.

Soon after came Bird, that opted for same-day deployment instead of allege conversations with a cities.

“That was shorter notice,” Heyne says. “As in, we got a call that they were going to be forsaken off on a streets.”

Kenneth Baer, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant for Bird, declined to fact a company’s proceed to entering San Jose or other new cities. “Obviously, we have a deliberative process,” he says. “I’m not going to get into a details.”

Despite a radical rollout, approach has ramped adult quick for a scooters, infrequently creation it formidable to find an permitted device nearby hubs like Diridon Station.

In a meantime, though, business operators like Cafe Stritch’s Maxwell Borkenhagen contend a mostly unregulated inclination can means problems day to day.


Spending months crafting minute policies only for e-scooters competence seem a bit excessive. At stake, though, are most bigger questions about who’s obliged for a less-desirable side effects of a pity economy. As try capital-backed startups find fast expansion with minimal costs, that tragedy can come to a conduct in mixed ways.

First and foremost, Lime contends, e-scooter companies are providing cities with a publicly permitted travel choice during no approach cost to a city. All they ask is that municipalities compensate for required taxpayer-funded elements, like bike lanes and highway maintenance.

“We yield a subsidy-free mobility,” Lime mouthpiece Emma Green says. “Cities yield a infrastructure.”

But what happens if riders violate a company’s terms of service, or laws ruling roving on sidewalks, parking scooters in a right of approach or not wearing a helmet?

State lawmakers are only now essay policies to oversee bike line use for scooters. In San Jose, regulating trade cops to military such low-level nuisances isn’t practical, Heyne says.

“We are woefully shorthanded for trade enforcement,” Heyne says, observant one new total counted only a half dozen citywide trade cops.

Companies, too, are fervent to equivocate costly, on-the-ground scooter patrols.

“That’s a large one, perplexing to reason people accountable for how they park,” Dreiman says. He remarkable that Lime now requires users to contention a print of how they park their scooter in sequence for a outing to strictly finish and billing to stop. The association is also deliberation regulating riders to military any other, submitting photos of other riders’ parking fails, or charity yet-undefined “incentives” for good behavior, he says.

Still, reserve is another relocating target. In San Francisco, a Twitter comment purebred to Facebook product manager Dan Grover in mid-May posted a screenshot from a Lime app alongside an X-ray display a damaged wrist.

“Took a brief as they don’t hoop disproportionate cement well,” Grover tweeted. “Aside from damaged bones, UX was good.”

Though Lime keeps annals of user-reported injuries, not all get reported. Green says a association carries business word mandated by any city it operates in. Lime has also started a helmet placement core in San Francisco or finished occasional helmet giveaways. Bird has sent some 22,000 helmets to users who ask them, Baer says.

In San Jose, Heyne says helmets and other reserve manners will expected be enclosed in a city’s Sep routine recommendations.

“It’s like move your possess chair belts if you’re renting a car,” Heyne says. Still, he added, injuries are also formidable for a city to track: “Nobody calls a DOT if they get into a scooter crash.”

1 Comment

  1. Tim

    June 5, 2018 during 7:32 pm

    Great essay that ideally summarizes all a advantages and issues. we privately consider that Electric bikes and electric skateboards are partial of a destiny and a cities need to adjust to this fact.
    Thanks for sharing!


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