When U.S. companies began renting adult versions of toddlers’ plastic scooters in 2017, mini-vehicles were a lightweight and often fun way to get around cities. But after five years and an epidemic, the shared electric scooter is getting another chance and a chance to fix their bad reputation.
Electric scooters can also provide blueprints for mold technology to suit our collective needs.
About five years ago, in several U.S. cities, including San Francisco and San Diego, a group of young companies began offering electric scooters that people could rent in minutes using a smartphone app.
Some people like to use scooters for short trips around the congested parts of the city. Officials and other residents saw the scooter companies as interlopers with products that were an invitation to those entitled to cut garbage on the sidewalk with pedestrians or parked scooters. Scooter’s response was terrible.
Gradually, however, companies began collaborating with cities to make scooters safer, more reliable, and less hateful. They have also begun testing new ideas, including automatic speed limits, which some transportation experts want to see applied to cars as well.
No new mode of transportation will solve all the transportation problems in the world, and scooters certainly have drawbacks. But rented electric scooters can eventually find their way into cities that seek solutions to traffic, pollution, road hazards and public transport limitations.
And if the scooter catches up, it will be because many U.S. cities have done something with on-demand ride companies like Uber and Lift that they couldn’t or can’t: effectively reducing downsides and maximizing public good. Regulated it.
“Do we still ride scooters?” The headline of Bloomberg News was asked last month. Yes, but it is different from the way we used to ride scooters in the past.
Officials in many cities have responded to complaints about how and where the scooter operates. Many cities have limited the number of scooters available, requiring companies to increase liability insurance or make it mandatory for scooters to be available in low-income neighborhoods.
In the Los Angeles area, scooters have built-in no-go zones that prevent people from using them in crowded areas such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Chicago is one of the places where people need to lock on fixed items like bike racks instead of leaving the scooter anywhere. And New York has promised dedicated lanes and parking zones to make it safer for people on bicycles and scooters.
Scooter companies have also responded to the call for defective or short-lived scooters. Wein Ting, chief executive of scooter and bicycle rental company Lime, told me that many rental scooters were the same models that people bought for personal use. He said the Lime is now on the fourth generation of its scooters designed to withstand frequent rental wear and tear.
The epidemic has also changed people’s daily routines and disrupted public transport. Americans seem to be increasingly interested in riding options, including rented and owned electric scooters and bicycles.
Not everyone wants a scooter, even if it changes. Some officials, including Miami, have said the scooter has no proper location and has been banned, at least temporarily.
On the other hand, some proponents of car transportation options say cities have overreacted to scooters, arguing that restrictions could make them too cumbersome to use and support car status quo.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the scooter story in 2022 is that it shows that private tech companies and governments can work together to serve an emerging technology in the public interest.
Celeta Reynolds, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, told me that she had learned from past regulatory mistakes that allowed taxi service to be suspended and allowed Uber and Lift to avoid ways to worsen traffic and pollution.
“I’m laying the groundwork here so I can welcome new innovations,” Reynolds said. The way forward to do that is not to let them in and do what they want. “
Reynolds said calls about scooters on the city’s public complaint line have decreased since the new rules went into effect, and restrictions on the number of scooters have not decreased in some parts of the Los Angeles area due to restrictions on the number of riders. She said her goal is to make sure city officials don’t block the lucrative driving options that Los Angeles needs, while ensuring technology companies address the downsides of their services.
The approach to scooters, Reynolds said, is a model of how Los Angeles plans to incorporate future transportation technologies, including driverless vehicles and flying cars.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. But they point out that in order to improve transportation, we may need as many private car options as possible, and strict supervision to ensure that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Before we go
Do new driver-assisted technologies make the car safer? Not enough data is publicly available to make an accurate assessment, my colleague Cad Metz reported. And yet safety is the biggest selling point for features like autopilot, Tesla system that automates some driving components like steering and braking.
The double-edged sword of being out online: MIT Technology Review writes about ways LGBTQ people in Malaysia use social media to advocate and communicate their rights in a country where homosexual relationships are a crime. But activists also approach online threats, cyber attacks, government surveillance and prosecution. (Subscription may be required.)
Why do I have so many gadget chargers and cords ?! The European Union will need phones, tablets, portable speakers and many other electronics sold in 27-nation blocks to use a similar charger by 2024, my colleague Adam Satariano reported. That list will include laptops by 2026.
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