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When Will E-Scooter Madness Descend On NYC?

The electric version promises to be much more insidious.
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The electric version promises to be much more insidious. Betty Tsang/Flickr

Perhaps I am biased, after a close brush with a tourist's rogue, rented Segway nearly removed half my face in Berlin, but I am skeptical of this recent push for publicly available electronic scooters. According to the Verge, though, electric scooter manufacturers are leering at New York City with cartoonish dollar signs in their eyes—"salivating," as the Verge puts it—but bureaucratic hurdles have so far kept them at bay. It may be the only time I'll ever say this, but thank heavens for red tape.

Granted, New York City's public transit systems does have its holes—a recent report from Comptroller Scott Stringer's office showed that 75 percent of New Yorkers have access to a subway station in their neighborhood, unless of course they're mobility-impaired, in which case that percentage drops to 51. And as the Verge points out, e-scooters could theoretically take some of the heat off our ailing subway system and help connect commuters to far-flung transit hubs, especially outside Manhattan. But will we use these zoomers as intended, or will we go the route of other commuters who came before us:

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The basic e-scooter model—as practiced by purveyors Bird, Lime, Spin, and others—allows members to locate a device with an app on their phones, and pay per minute to ride them around. When the user reaches their destination or gets bored, they can simply drop the scooter where it stands. Then, someone else can come along and ride it away—or, as has recently been the trend in scooter-besieged cities, someone else can (and will) come along and destroy it.

Despite some ostensibly good intentions (along with money lust) that prompt e-scooter companies to drop their product on unprepared cities, some urbanites across the country have balked at this unasked-for gift. In Los Angeles, for example, angry residents are flinging dockless Bird scooters into the sea; smearing them with poop; burying them on beaches; hurling them from balconies; attempting to flush them down toilets; and setting them on fire. E-scooters thrust upon San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and other unsuspecting cities have met a similar fate.

For the time being, riding the scooters is outlawed in New York, and violators may be punished by a $500 fine (though some transit experts say the ban is not really enforced). "They are illegal and I am not aware of anything in the works to change that," DOT Spokesperson Scott Gastel told the Times.

So why all this rage, you ask? Because, as the Verge notes, it's legal for scooter purveyors to simply spring their wares on cities without warning. Those cities, however, may lack the infrastructure to manage a dockless bike share system; as a result, streets and sidewalks end up littered with scooters, and pedestrians trip over these as if stumbling through a living room scattered with a negligent child's toys. Having recently returned from St. Louis, which just saw Lime bikes materialize as if from nowhere, I can report that the vast majority of the bicycles I saw were toppled over on lawns, abandoned in the middle of sidewalks, and strapped to the fronts of public buses with the rest of the privately owned bikes, suggesting that they had been commandeered as personal vehicles. I did not see many engaged in actual use.

But do we really think that New Yorkers, with their infamously short tempers, will tolerate an extra layer of stuff clogging up their city? I am not so sure. In my mind's eye, I too can see the e-scooter sailing through the air and landing with a tremendous crack on a taxi cab's windshield, further infuriating everyone involved.

(Meanwhile, Gothamist's Christopher Robbins downloaded the Bird app, despite the fact that Bird does not yet exist in NYC. "I just stare at its vastness and pray for the day they come," he said, somewhat creepily. "I welcome our stupid battery-powered overlords.")

Motorized scooters list among the vehicles the DMV won't let New Yorkers register, so for now, this conversation remains hypothetical. But according to the Verge, sources close to the scooter share lobby cryptically insist that "whether it takes a change in city law or state law, [e-scooters are] coming." And indeed, one state senator is already working to legalize and regulate the use of e-scooters. The time is nigh, concerned citizens.

The Verge predicts that legalization would come with a slew of provisions, including a possible helmet mandate and possession of a driver's license. (Ideally, this would mean fewer reckless drivers leaving wreckage in their wake, like the aforementioned Segue bandit. But can you stop a drunken bro from scooter rampaging through the East Village?) Elected officials would also need to figure out which public spaces lend themselves best to scooting: Do we want them snaking through sidewalk crowds? Zipping through the bike lanes? Out in open traffic? And as far as our ability to use these devices without murdering them in fits of fury, dockless bikes—which recently descended on the Rockaways—may help clarify whether or not we as a city are ready for this model.

Because again, e-scooters do bring theoretical benefits. Lowering pollution levels by offering commuters a cleaner mode of transportation? Yes, please. Affording people who live far away from the train a better option than buses that may or may not arrive? Wonderful, let's do it. But can we be the responsible adults e-scooter slingers seem to assume we are? Or will we succumb to the same scooter-induced madness as those monsters in other cities? We'll find out soon enough.

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