Electric scooters are popping up in cities everywhere, but there are risks
Don’t let these Birds anger you.
Electric scooters are popping up across the nation as companies like Bird, Lime and Spin introduce their motorized two-wheeled vehicles to help people travel short distances. Indeed, these companies now operate in 25 cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, Austin and Washington, D.C., and charge users anywhere from 15 cents to $1 per minute to rent the devices. The plug-in vehicles — which operate on electricity and batteries, and travel up to 15 miles per hour — can be picked up, paid for and dropped off anywhere. (Although leaving them in the middle of a sidewalk is generally frowned upon.)
Their popularity is speeding up: Since launching in September 2017, Bird claims to have offered more than one million rides in the United States. And venture capitalists are dropping millions to help these firms expand: TechCrunch recently reported that Bird has authorized a new $200 million round of funding, and valued the startup at $1 billion. And Uber and Google parent company Alphabet just invested $335 million in Lime, according to CNBC. TechCrunch has also reported that Spin is finalizing a $125 million dollar offering. Researchers predict that the electric scooter market will grow from $14 billion to $37 billion globally by 2024, according to Phys.org.
Scooting could be the future of commuting. The on-demand rideshare company Lyft just announced plans to make dockless electric scooters and bikes accessible to those using their app in the coming months, as part of their goal to take 1 million cars off the road by 2019.
Electric scooter companies claim these plug-in vehicles are a greener alternative to driving a car. And some research supports that: A 2015 study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy claims that major increases in bike and e-bike rides could cut emissions from automobiles by half, and save $128 trillion by 2050, as e-bikes consume the electricity equivalent of 1,000 miles per gallon of gasoline. Plus, a government study showed that half of all car trips are between just one and 10 miles; and very short distances are ideal for scooting.
Liza Wong, a 21 year-old public relations intern home in Los Angeles for the summer, told Moneyish that, “I ‘Bird’ two miles to work sometimes. It’s kind of terrifying, but I enjoy the thrill for the 12 to 15 minutes I’m riding it.” Some commuters have even filmed themselves zipping to the office via electric scooter.
But while scooter rental services provide an affordable and easily attainable way to get from point A to point B, some worry that they pose road hazards and health risks. Although the top three electric scooter companies routinely update their safety guidelines and require the use of helmets (Bird and Lime will provide one for free upon request), people often don’t follow the rules, and travel at high speeds alongside motor vehicles without the proper protection.
ABC News revealed that 3,300 scooter injuries were reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2016, and that 25% of scooter-related injuries occur to the head and face. Benjamin Aaron Emanuel, an associate professor of neurology at University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, told Moneyish, “The biggest risk of riding an electric scooter remains trauma from a motor vehicle collision. Wearing a helmet only reduces the amount of brain injury one could sustain.”
You also can face fines for riding the two-wheeled vehicles without obeying the law — as actress Carly Reeves, 34, recently learned. She took her first spin on a Bird a few weeks ago, and she was pulled over for not wearing a helmet just 1.9 miles into her ride along Venice Beach. “I was riding on the bike bath and stupidly went right past a police station where a car was parked intentionally to give out tickets,” Reeves told Moneyish. She has yet to find out the price of her ticket, but she’s read it could be $190 — all for a ride that initially cost her just $3.25.
In some cities, fines are even steeper: Indeed, New York City has banned the scooters, according to the New York Times, and violators are subject to a $500 civil penalty if they’re caught riding them. In other cities, Bird actually pays users to take scooters home at night, charge them and return them to the streets before 7am – all for just $5 to $20 per scooter depending on its location.
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