Scooters are, of course, not a panacea
for urban transportation problems.
But they do have a legitimate role to play
in offering a direct point-to-point transportation option
that is less physically demanding than a bicycle,
cleaner than a car,
and smaller than either.
There’s also a particular reason scooters are booming today even though the basic idea of a board with wheels attached is very old.
The contemporary electric scooter boom exists at the intersection of multiple technological trends
— the falling price of batteries and GPS trackers,
the near-ubiquity of smartphones,
and the rising demand for space in central cities
— that are collectively transforming our world.
While I find the regulatory crackdown on dockless bike share to be moderately ill-advised, the basic impetus to shift business models away from bicycles and toward slightly more expensive electric scooters is fundamentally sound.
It’s natural and correct that dockless bikes would dominate in China, a country that is still relatively poor and where cycling is a mainstream transportation option due to the large number of people for whom the financial burdens of car ownership are simply too great.
The revival of interest in bicycle commuting in the West, by contrast, is fundamentally about environmental sustainability and the appeal of dense, pedestrian-oriented urban neighborhoods relative to auto-oriented suburban ones.
And for those purposes, the electric scooter works considerably better than a bicycle. For starters, you don’t need to do the actual work of pedaling a bicycle.
It’s a lazier, rather than less lazy, alternative to walking, which makes it more competitive with the dominant car-commuting lifestyle in the United States.
That also makes it a lot friendlier to people who’d like to move about the city in business attire without showing up for meetings covered in sweat.
Scooters are also physically smaller than bicycles, meaning they’re easier to maneuver and, perhaps more important, take up less space when parked.
And as with so much else in urban politics, at the end of the day, the scooter controversy is on some level primarily about parking.
Scooter haters don’t like the idea of sidewalks littered with parked scooters, and car drivers don’t like the idea of giving up more curbside space for dedicated lanes in which bikes and scooters can safely travel.
And of course it’s true that as long as all non-automobile modes of transportation are forced to share a small minority of public space, that conflict between scooter fans and pedestrians is inevitable.