What at first might seem like a toy could well be the affordable and environmentally friendly transport innovation desperately needed by many cities around the world.
“I mostly use a scooter for short distances, to get to from the subway to the office,” says Robert Price from Washington. He’s one of many in US cities that are giving up cars, bikes and public transport for rentable battery-powered scooters.
Scattered all over city centres, they can be rented out from operators like Lime and Bird for less than the price of a train ticket for 10 minutes use. Anyone who wants to start a quick ride just uses an app on their smartphone to unlock one.
Once you’ve unlocked the scooter with your smartphone, two or three pushes with your foot and you’re on your way. Then, all you need to keep yourself moving is a lever on the handlebars. Once you’re done, there’s a handbrake and kickstand so it doesn’t fall over.
It’s not just commuters, but also tourists that like the idea of buzzing around on scooters. “The whole concept is cool,” says John Lawrence, a British-German tourist visiting Washington.
Users like having an alternative to buses and cars. The scooters allow them to avoid traffic and free them from having to find a parking space. And when you’ve reached your destination, you just park the scooter on the side of the path for the next person to rent it out.
Now that companies like Bird and Lime have taken off in several North American cities, the e-scooters also look set to conquer European cities like Vienna and Paris.
“Today, 40% of car trips are less than two miles long,” Travis VanderZanden, founder and chief executive of Bird, one of the biggest electric scooter companies, recently told the Washington Post.
“Our goal is to replace as many of those trips as possible so we can get cars off the road and curb traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.”
But not everyone is happy about the rapid rise of the new form of mobility. One problem is that once people have finished with the scooters, they just leave them anywhere. In San Francisco, scooters are being found dumped in the bay, and even in trees.
When on the go, they can also pose risks for both riders and pedestrians. Riders are supposed to stay on the road, but many also choose to go on the pavement, against the advice of operators.
People whizzing past you at 20 km/h on the pavement is bound to be disconcerting for many people