I’m bored and waiting for the cable guy to come and fix my internet, so I’m going to
complain talk about e-scooters for a while.
Oh, and I should warn you right up front that there will be sarcasm.
So let’s look at the abomination that is the e-scooter. Yes, I said abomination because that is what a of a lot of people think of them in the cities that they have infested. At least the ones who have had to jump for their lives off a sidewalk to avoid being run down by one of the things.
Some people are looking at the problem of “the last mile”. This refers to one of the problems with public transportation. Let me explain.
In the dreams of the more progressive city planners out there, personal transportation should work something like this: First you’ll take a high speed train (which doesn’t actually exist) to the city to a central depot (which doesn’t exist) where you will get on a subway or a light rail system (which doesn’t exist in the vast majority of cities in the US) to another depot somewhere in the city (which doesn’t exist) where you will get on a pleasant, clean bus (which doesn’t exist) that totally isn’t covered with the vomit, blood, feces, urine and body parts of the people who were on it the night before, that will take you to a bus stop (which doesn’t exist) near your final destination which is within easy walking distance (it isn’t).
Sidenote: The more practical of you out there will have several rather serious objections to these dreams of how personal transportation should work, even if you ignore the fact that most, if not all, of the infrastructure needed for all of this doesn’t actually exist, its cost to build would be mind boggling, that it would take decades to build, and that there would be thousands of lawsuits trying to stop it before anyone even turned over the first shovel full of dirt. The problem is, well, it doesn’t seem that anyone has actually bothered to take into consideration the reason why people want to go to town. All these city planners seem to think that I’m going to get on a train, go to, oh, Green Bay, take a bus around town, get back on a train and then immediately turn around and go home again. No. The only reason I want to go to town is to go to the shops and get out again as fast as possible. I want to get groceries, stop at Fleet Farm to get a new tire for my lawnmower, buy a cat tower that my cat will never actually use, and then scurry back to the house to spend two days recovering from the trip. The problem with these public transportation systems is what the hell do I do with all my stuff? There is no way in hell I am going to be able to lug all of that stuff along with me on a bus or commuter train or any of the methods of transportation they want to push me onto.
That last bit, the distance between where your bus drops you off and your final destination, is sometimes known as the ‘last mile’. And that last mile really often is a mile or more. In some cases a lot more. So that last mile is a real problem because people look at this whole plan and say wait a minute, why the hell should I go through all of that nonsense when I still have to walk a half hour to get to my destination? I’ll just skip all of that crap and take my car and be done with it.
And the entrepreneurs out there are dealing with the lack of infrastructure by simply totally ignoring all of it and concentrating instead on the last mile because that’s where they figure they can make huge gobs of money at very little expense. So a bunch of them sat around brainstorming one night and what they came up with was a… Wait for it… A scooter. A rental scooter.
A rental scooter? What? Seriously? A fricken scooter? Yeah, a fricken rental scooter. But wait! It’s special! It’s an e-scooter! (Waits for hushed ooos and aahs to die down) It’s like all “green” and stuff because they stuck an “e” in front of the word scooter. It’ll work. Seriously. Really. Trust me…
Take basically what is little more than an upscale version of the kid’s toy that seems to have been designed specifically to make sure emergency room doctors are fully employed, strap a motor and battery to it so it can zip along at 20+ mph, and there you go. It ain’t exactly rocket science. My kid literally made one of these back in the 1990s out of parts from an old office copying machine. Seriously. Granted it didn’t work very well but it worked. Sort of.
I have to admit that on the surface at least it doesn’t seem to be an absolutely horrible idea. Maybe? The idea is that they leave these things in appropriate places around the city. The user uses an app to unlock and pay for using the scooter. The user gets to their destination and then just leaves it there where, hopefully, someone leaving that destination will need a ride and then go through the same process to take the scooter elsewhere. Then at the end of the day someone with a truck will run around town, find all of the scooters, throw them into the back of the truck, take them to a central warehouse somewhere to recharge them, and then get them back on the streets before the morning rush starts.
Only it hasn’t actually worked all that well. First of all some of the companies never bothered to tell the cities they were moving into what they were doing. The city went to bed one night, got up in the morning, started to watch the morning news while having a nice cup of coffee, and immediately was deluged with complaints from people wondering what the hell was going on with all of these stupid scooters laying all over and people riding them at 20 mph down the sidewalks and running over small children, pets, and less than agile pedestrians, and the city says what? Wait a minute, what scooters?
Some of our more enterprising citizens went “Ooo, free scooters!” and snapped them up, stripped them of every resellable part they could, and tossed the remains off the nearest bridge into the river. Or they just tossed them off the nearest bridge without stripping them of parts because, well, hey, this is Wisconsin. It’s boring up here. We have to make our own entertainment. And I’ve ridden one of these things and after going half a block on the stupid thing I wanted to throw it off a bridge myself.
Building owners found their entrances so cluttered with the damned things that people couldn’t get into the shops or offices, and that even the sidewalks were blocked by abandoned scooters. Poor pedestrians out walking their little doggies or trying to walk down to the shops to get a coffee had to quickly learn the fine art of running for their lives or be run down by some loonie on a scooter zipping between walkers at about a zillion miles per hour. And if you think I am exaggerating this, I assure you I am not. This is exactly what happened when these things hit the streets. I have a lot of friends who live in Milwaukee and this is what happened down there when these things were dumped on the city almost literally without warning.
I won’t go through all of the nonsense that took place in Milwaukee when the e-scooters moved it. Let’s just say that it was real interesting. After a lot of threats of lawsuits and other ridiculousness they are apparently now back on the streets, but only in certain zones and with restrictions on how many can be in each zone. And, Milwaukee being Milwaukee, they want their cut of the action, too. Companies are apparently going to have to pay the city $50 per scooter, twenty-five cents per trip, and if a city employee has to touch one of the things to move it out of the way, the scooter company will have to pay a $25 fee. Considering none of these scooter companies seems to actually be making any money in the first place, yeah, that’s going to work real well.
Sidenote: The comment above may make it sound like the city of Milwaukee is desperate for money. That’s because it is. They’ve managed to so thoroughly screw up the city’s employee pension plan that within a few years pretty much most of the entire city budget is going to have to go to paying off the pension system.
Milwaukee and a lot of other cities wanted to ban the things completely. But there were threats of lawsuits, warnings that the city wouldn’t look ‘environmentally friendly’ if they tried to ban them, etc. So the city caved in and permitted them, but it did ban them from using sidewalks ( a ban which almost everyone ignores, by the way). This meant that e-scooters now had to ride on the streets. Streets which look like this:
Now do I really have to tell you that shoving what is basically a kiddie toy with a motor on it out onto streets that look like this is not a good idea? Streets and roads here in Wisconsin are utterly horrible for the most part. Wisconsin roads and streets cause about $650 damage to the average car driver every year. And now you want to push scooters onto those same streets? Scooters have tiny, tiny wheels, no suspension, not very good brakes, and are unstable to begin with. And now you’re going to dump them onto streets full of cracks, potholes, expansion joints, rocks, mufflers that fell off of cars, etc? Oh, and do I need to mention thousands of car drivers who are already pissed off by, well, everything, I guess judging from the way they drive?
And speaking of safety, according to a study published in the journal of American emergency room doctors, e-scooters have an injury per mile rate that is two hundred times higher than any other vehicle. Two hundred times.
Then let’s talk about money. These scooter companies have literally burned through billions of dollars of venture capital since this nonsense began. They might as well have just taken all of the money, put it in a big pile and burned it because to the best of my knowledge none of them has actually managed to make a profit. Several have gone bankrupt. Others are “right sizing”, pulling out of markets where they haven’t been able to
bribe (cough cough, typo there, sorry) convince city officials that they are a “good thing” and should be allowed to operate virtually without regulation. Bird’s stock value was, when it first went public, selling for about $21 a share. The last time I looked back in June, it was hovering down round $0.50 per share. Yeah, half a buck a share, and the stock exchange was threatening to delist them. I hope you didn’t invest your kid’s college fund in the e-scooter business.
And people are still pumping tens of millions of dollars into these companies in the hopes that somehow, some way, they can make a buck off this whole scheme.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against electric vehicles. I love electric vehicles. I have an e-bike that I’ve put 500 miles on in less than 2 months. If Ford ever gets their act together and actually produces the electric version of the F-150 in sufficient quantities that I could actually buy one without being on a two year waiting list, you’d probably see one of those sitting in my garage as well. But these stupid scooters? No thanks.