America’s love affair with scooters lasted about a minute, if that. As companies like Lime, Skip and Bird roll out their pay-per-minute electric scooter rental programs, cities across the country are dealing with the fallout, and it’s not pretty.
In California, where electric scooters have become part of the high-tech industry’s impact on urban culture, the scooters are being vandalized and destroyed—and those doing the damage are bragging about it. On the most exhibitionistic corners of the Internet, scooter abuse is being documented and proudly displayed. The Instagram account Birdgraveyard, which has more than 24,000 followers, features images and films of scooters that have met their tragic demise by being burned, tossed into the sea, festooned with dog doody bags, and otherwise desecrated.
“They throw them everywhere: in the ocean, in the sand, in the trash can,” said Robert Johnson Bey, a Venice Beach, California, maintenance worker. “Sunday, I was finding kickstands everywhere,” Bey said. “Looked like they were snapped off.”
The scooters, which have an estimated value of about $1,000, cost users just $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute to ride, making them an affordable, environmentally friendly alternative to urban gridlock and public transportation. But they have been met with bureaucratic dismay in many cities due to their unregulated and difficult to categorize nature, and because the scooters are often scattered around at street corners, in unsightly piles, in the middle of sidewalks, on wheelchair ramps, and wherever they may end up. Likewise, citizens who don’t love them seem to hate them, or the companies that own them, or the people who ride them, or scooters in general purely as a symptom of change.
The scooters zip along sidewalks at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour, generating animosity from pedestrians. Some cities have questions about safety, as emergency room doctors report a sudden onslaught of scooter-related broken bones, concussions, and other injuries. Worse, fatalities have occurred in several cities as inexperienced riders meet unprepared automobiles.
“You have a public that hasn’t been aware of the inherent dangers in what they see as a fun recreational vehicle,” said Dr. Sam Torbati, co-chair of the emergency department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “They’re no safer than any other motorized vehicles, and in some ways, are more dangerous than a bicycle.”
Seattle banned scooters, although some scooter supporters note that when the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which runs through downtown, closes for reconstruction in January 2019, a Seattle that is already facing crushing traffic will become even more difficult for car commuters. Scooters could bring some relief by reducing the number of cars stuck in traffic.