E-Scooters roll into the limelight

Loki Olin, Staff Writer

The E-Scooter, which bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor, the Razor scooter, has proven its worth on San Francisco streets in a variety of ways. The E-Scooter has been observed drastically shortening the trek from Street Taco back to the Page Street Campus, providing Urban students with a few extra minutes of free time during lunch.

The E-Scooter can also be utilized for journeys at a much greater scale. Matthew Sherman (‘19) rode a LimeBike E-Scooter along San Francisco’s 19th Avenue, covering three miles in 33 minutes and eight seconds. The E-Scooter has established itself as the swiss-army knife of scooters, offering an unprecedented combination of performance, technology, and durability—despite the mistreatment it endures.

Bird, LimeBike, and Spin are the three largest E-Scooter companies in the Bay Area. Their growth in the first few months of their presence in San Francisco was rapid and bold, as the three companies reaped the rewards of their sensational popularity while expressing little interest in abiding by San Francisco’s laws. However, their unapologetic takeover of San Francisco streets warranted a swift response from the city’s government, who delivered three identical cease-and-desist notices to each of the three companies. The cease-and-desist letters accused the companies of endangering public health and safety by failing to enforce parking and safety regulations. The city government instructed the companies to alter their practices in response to the letters and update the San Francisco government on their progress by May 30, 2018. Additionally, the San Francisco government has demanded that starting on June 4th, the brands temporarily remove their scooters from the streets while they register for permits to legally rent out electrically motorized vehicles.

A major source of attraction to E-Scooters is their reputation as convenient and fun forms of transportation. Thibault Jamey (‘20) explained the benefit of choosing E-Scooters over rideshare services such as Lyft or Uber is that “the feeling of riding down the street with the wind going through your hair on your Lime tops riding in an Uber.”

For all three brands, the cost to begin riding the scooters is one dollar; an additional charge of 15 cents is also added to the fare every minute. Across long distances, the fare often surpasses that of an Uber or Lyft. For Jamey, the experience of riding the scooters justifies the price.

However, not all Urban students are willing to embrace E-Scooters with open arms. Because open space on San Francisco roads is scarce, the E-Scooters have already begun to garner negative attention due to their haphazard parking. In an anonymous survey with an eight percent margin of error, 75 percent of 102 Urban students surveyed said that they had seen one or more of these scooters parked improperly or obstructing public space.

“I found an E-Scooter on the 2nd layer of scaffolding on a construction site. It was super hard to get down,” said Finn Budetti (‘20).

Somerset Miles-Dwyer (‘20) described the scooters as “super intrusive. I was in the Marina walking my dog, and the further we got down Crissy Field I saw like ten of those scooters, and it was super gross and weird to see those scooters scattered everywhere.”

Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, explained in an interview with the Urban Legend that improper parking affects certain groups of people more than others. “If you’re a person in a wheelchair, it’s really difficult to navigate the sidewalks of San Francisco. This is one more thing that people with mobility issues have to try to navigate and avoid on the sidewalks,” said Wiedenmeier.

The cease-and-desist letters delivered to the three companies listed examples of the companies’ “unlawful business practices,” including an observation that “customers are leaving scooters in the public right of way.” The San Francisco government urged the companies to adopt more efficient methods of avoiding such blockages. Bird has already attempted to reconcile this issue by adding stricter parking instructions to their apps, but their effectiveness is not guaranteed.

Trip Gorman (‘20) explained that “Bird has you take a photo [while parking], but it’s not necessary.” Bird recently added this feature to their app, which instructs users to submit a photo of their parked E-Scooter to ensure that it is stationed properly. This is just one of many flexible guidelines listed by the companies. The companies also state that the required age to operate electric scooters is eighteen, but their popularity among Urban students suggests that this rule is not often enforced.

The cease-and-desist letters also cited the absence of helmet use as a threat to public safety. “Customers are riding the scooters without helmets, putting themselves at risk,” read a portion of the letters.

Although helmet use on E-Scooters is technically mandatory, Gorman said that he had “never seen someone wearing a helmet on a Bird or Lime.”

Henry Steere (‘19) said that using E-Scooters “has been a very positive experience. I found that they’re very convenient and quick.” Steere then said that if the E-Scooter companies were to enforce stricter guidelines around parking and helmet use, “I would no longer use them. I don’t want to wear a helmet.” Gorman and Steere’s support of E-Scooters relies on their convenience, which may become a thing of the past if the brands adhere to the demands outlined in their cease-and-desist letters.

The regulatory demands made by the San Francisco government are not the only things threatening the E-Scooters’ convenience and reliability. The bold decision to distribute the scooters without a license—which Steere described as “asking for forgiveness instead of permission”—gave the brands little time to fine-tune their business plans before exposing themselves to the public eye.

Even if brash decision-making has produced unforeseen consequences for the E-Scooter companies, not even critics of the scooters can deny that they offer a refreshing and exciting form of transportation to stressed and busy San Francisco locals. “They seem fun, and at times I’ve been tempted to try them,” said Miles-Dwyer.

However, the E-Scooter’s impact on San Francisco’s streets may be short-lived. Wiedenmeier warned that if people want E-Scooters to stick around, the companies “are going to need to work with cities and work with San Francisco to make sure that the system and the product that they offer are accessible, safe, and reliable.”