Monday, November 5, 2018

Scooters are Going Places

Here's something everyone knows about Los Angeles: our traffic is terrible.

It's so terrible it's a big joke.

 Lots of advertisements here make references to how bad the freeways are.

So how do you combat the traffic?

The simple answer is, have less traffic.  Most rides are short trips, and if people used, say, a bicycle instead of a car, there would literally be half as many cars on the road.

In Los Angeles in particular, there's a sudden boom in pushing people to where they need to do by "non-traditional" methods, such as bike- and scooter-shares.  (Uber, the ride-share company, now owns Jump bike-share.)

You probably already know about electric scooters.  (At least, if you live in a major city you do.)  The two most popular brands here in Los Angeles seem to be Bird and Lime, both of which were founded last year, in 2017.

Full disclosure: I hate electric scooters.

They sprang up in major metro areas overnight like mushrooms after a rainstorm.  Because they are short-term rentals, they are not being taken very good care of by the people who use them.  They are an urban eyesore and collect in tangled heaps on the sidewalk, blocking walkways for people. 

Aside from being an unsightly nuisance, they are also dangerous.  (In the last year there has already been one fatality, in Dallas.)  Scooter riders zip out in front of cars, creating obstacles for drivers, and endanger pedestrians if they go onto the sidewalk.  There are already a few class-action lawsuits regarding electric scooters; people have complained that they make traffic worse, and some places have banned them until they figure out how to permit and regulate them properly.

They're fighting a losing battle, though.  60-70% of people are in favor of electric scooters because they are efficient, convenient and.  Plus, between Bird and Lime, there's three billion dollars on the line; these start-ups are doing remarkably well and have already created a micro-economy of people who use them, charge them, and take them to work.

Electric scooters are here to stay.

And for all of people's complaints, the funny thing is, alternatives to cars aren't new.

Did we all forget about the Segway craze of 2002?  (I hope not, because Segway ended with a fantastically hilarious punchline: the owner of the company died after accidentally riding one off of a cliff.)

Scooters have been around since 1915, when Autoped created the first stand-up scooter.  But it wasn't until around 2014 that scooters became practical, because that's when someone started stuffing lithium batteries into them.

That's not to say that we didn't have scooters before the 21st century, though.  Here's a picture of the 1965 Centaur, a gas-power scooter that could hit up to 40 miles per hour and ran on less than a penny per mile of gasoline.

And before the scooter, there were smaller, more efficient alternatives to cars.  Bicycles have been around since 1817.  (And, adorably, were originally called Dandy Horses.)  But humans are lazy and we hate pedaling, so within a century, we were trying to create horseless carts that ran on gas and required no pedaling.

Beyond the Buckboard!  Released in 1920, the Briggs and Stratton "D" Flyer Buckboard was a one-cylinder go-kart that could go up to 25 miles an hour and got eighty miles on a single gallon of gasoline.

Unfortunately, you looked like a huge dork riding on it and they didn't sell well.

In 1923, Briggs and Stratton sold their Buckboard design to the Automotive Electric Service Company, who immediately replaced the gasoline engine with 12-volt batteries.

Behold the 1928 Auto Red Bug.

The Auto Red Bug could chug along at about ten miles an hour and drive for 20 to 30 miles on a single charge.  Unfortunately, making it more expensive ($325, versus the "D" Flyer's pricetag of $225) and slower did not make consumers more willing to buy it, and it went off the market in 1928.

The concept of a smaller, more cost-efficient ride continued getting kicked around, with such bizarre concepts such as the Fink Mobile occasionally poking their heads out of the ground.

The 1992 Fink Mobile used a 150 cc water-cooled engine stolen from a 1989 Honda motorcycle, demonstrating once and for all that there is a way to make motorcycles uncool.

It seems like scooters may have finally accomplished what the glorious Fink Mobile couldn't: scooters are actually popular.  People use them

Electric scooters annoy the hell out of me, but here's my secret.  It's not the scooters I have a problem with.  Not really.

The issue isn't scooters, and never was.  The issue is our infrastructure.  We need streets designed for scooters. Traffic congestion won't get better on its own, and neither will the over-consumption of fossil fuels.  We need a solution.  The solution is to find a way to move people in a manner that is cost-efficient and space-efficient, and at the end of the day, a scooter is better than a car (at least for short rides).

We can either embrace the scooter craze now, or dig our heels in and draw out this battle which we know we'll lose.  I may hate scooters, but it's nothing that can't be fixed.  Offer helmets; create bike and scooter lanes; set up docking stations for scooter storage to keep them off the sidewalks.  Scooters are going to keep popping up in metro areas; we need to stop fighting them and start cooperating to make them a safe, sustainable alternative to cars.  After all, if there's one thing we know about scooters, it's that they're designed to move forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment