The band Montrose famously sang, “Get on your bad motor scooter and ride!” But depending on how things shake out, some forms of motor scooting may become illegal in Smyrna, Georgia.
That’s because the Smyrna city council has been tinkering with the idea of banning rentable electric scooters like the ones that Bird, Lime, Lyft, Spin and Uber offer in cities around the country. The council could have moved the measure forward May 20, but the members decided to defer action until June 17. In the interim, they are also considering regulating e-scooters instead of banning them. While council members ought to be commended for taking their time, there’s no reason why they should even discuss prohibiting e-scooters.
Given the ubiquity of e-scooters, I figured the time was right to test out a couple of questions: 1. Are scooters easy and safe to ride? 2. Will my employer let me ride scooters “for research” during work hours?
Working for a free-spirited think tank has its perks because my employer graciously allowed me to take a spin on an e-scooter for research purposes (although I probably wouldn’t make a habit of doing it on the clock). And while I am not a safety expert, the scooter was shockingly easy to operate, and its governor limited its speed to around 15 miles per hour. Beyond this, e-scooters are easy to rent — so long as you have a smartphone — and dirt cheap to use; it only cost me $1 to start the scooter and 15 cents a minute after that.
It’s easy to see why e-scooters have proliferated across the country: They are convenient to use and serve as an excellent source of first mile/last mile transportation to and from public transit. Many people avoid using ridesharing or taxis for short-distance trips, and understandably so — these modes of transportation are only cost-efficient for longer trips, and cars face traffic delays that scooters do not. E-scooters can fill the first/last mile functions effectively — and already are in some locales. Indeed, most scooter rides are less than 2 miles.
E-scooters can also reduce traffic. Around 40 percent of car rides are only 2 miles or less. If more people relied on scooters for these trips, there would be fewer cars on the road — not to mention less pollution. Indeed, e-scooters are very eco-friendly: While a traditional car can travel around 0.8 miles on one kilowatt-hour of energy, the same amount of energy can propel a scooter almost 83 miles. These energy savings also result in cost savings. If you were to drive a car 5 miles a day for 365 days it would, on average, cost you around $185 per year to fuel. But if you rode an e-scooter for the same time and distance, it would only require $3 worth of electricity.
What’s more, the rentable e-scooter industry creates local jobs. Someone has to collect the scooters at night, charge them and then return them to the streets. Each e-scooter company has a different method of fulfilling this function. Some hire full-time employees, while others pay individuals upward of $20 for each scooter that they charge and redeploy.
Given all the benefits of e-scooters, why are some cities — including Smyrna — considering e-scooter bans? The most commonly provided excuses revolve around promoting public safety and reducing clutter.
Maintaining a safe and aesthetically pleasing Smyrna is a laudable goal, but this can be achieved without banning e-scooters. To begin, we need to be honest about the risks that e-scooters pose. A study in Austin, Texas, found that during a single six-month period, riders used e-scooters 936,110 times, and there were 160 confirmed injuries of varying degrees — a 0.017 percent injury rate. While every injury deserves serious consideration, e-scooting is far from the high-risk activity that some claim. Indeed, e-scooter users face essentially the same hazards as bicyclists.
If officials wish to make e-scooting safer, then they can enforce commonsense laws like requiring riders to wear helmets, ride sober and obey the rules of the road. Furthermore, if lawmakers want to create a safer, more welcoming environment for e-scooter riders, then they ought to create more bike lanes, which e-scooters can also use. Dealing with perceived eyesores is easy enough, too: The city council can simply designate locations on every block where scooters can be dropped off and picked up — but it must do so in a way that is convenient to riders.
Emerging technologies and industries bring along great opportunities and some challenges, but knee-jerk reactions to them aren’t always well thought out. In the case of e-scooters, cities shouldn’t rush to ban them. Rather, they should embrace the innovative services that they provide, promulgate smart solutions that foster growth and safety, and take Montrose’s sage advice and ride that “bad motor scooter!”
Image credit: Sylvia Biskupek