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A few milestones stick out from the rest of the scooter news from January 2019.
The last time we checked in with wild world of scooters, we were still struggling to get a handle on how to locate dominant narratives in the litigation of electric scooter share in cities around the country. This time around, we feel a little more confident in pointing to a few emerging trends in all the noise surrounding scooters.
Support for scooters as a viable form of alternative transportation is building, and the results from early experiments are allowing for more informed understanding of the potential and limitations of the new mode.
One story controlled the narrative about the popularity of scooters this month: The New York Times reporting on data released by the Portland Bureau of Transportation following a four month pilot scooter share program. Scooter companies played nice, according to the article, and it paid off. Scooters will return to the streets of Portland, and scooter companies scored a major public relations victory in blasting news to a national audience about the popularity of scooter share amongst the general public.
Public sentiment isn't the only dynamic making inroads for scooters—bike advocates are also climbing on board. A Streetsblog USA story canvassed bike advocates in Kansas City, Baltimore, and Nashville and also found support for the new mode as a potentially game-changing addition in the public realm.
There was also significant movement in the process of making space for scooters in the public realm—though not all of it is forward progress. Arlington, Texas followed the path of Santa Monica, California in blocking off sections of sidewalk and street for pick-up and drop-off of scooters. Call them "scooter corrals," and we'll be surprised if they don't become a common feature of scooter share systems before long.
One potential route toward political and public acceptance of scooters came to an end this month, when Bird ceased collecting a fee to fund bike infrastructure investments. The idea that scooter rides could help fund the infrastructure improvements that will help make a smooth transition into the flow of vehicle and pedestrian traffic turned out to be little more than wishful thinking—a temporary public relations victory. We should be wary of the similar ephemerality of progress in the future.
Two other stories stood out for their absolute preposterousness, and as evidence that scooters making some people (e.g., politicians and tech evangelists) lose all track of their capacity for ratiocination. There were reports of one company working on autonomous scooters and bikes. Imagine the machinery that could balance a rider on two wheels while sensing and computing fast enough to avoid pedestrians and cars while traveling at a speed somewhere between 10 and 15 mph. If self-driving cars are far-fetched, how about self-scooting scooters?
Then there is the city of Baltimore, which considered a 30-day jail sentence for speeding on a scooter before backing off the threat. Does even the suggestion of such a draconian punishment for speeding while scooting suggest a fair allocation of mobility in the public realm, especially when compared to the slap on the wrist and traffic school delivered to drivers caught speeding in SUVs? Or does it perhaps indicate the policy of wildly-out-of-control reactionists?
Finally, we must mention a few scooter developments that played out on Twitter that also provide interesting, perhaps humorous, insight into the scooter share phenomenon.
First, Mother Jones published a story sharing new data on the injury risks posed by scooter rides. It's certainly not good news that scoter rides pose risk to life and limb. Calling that news evidence that scooters are "the worst thing that ever happened to cities," like Mother Jones did on Twitter, is such an overreach it had a lot of people threatening to cancel their subscriptions.
New research shows exactly why e-scooters are the worst thing that ever happened to cities https://t.co/j3zWtch13e
— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) January 28, 2019
A more measured take on the injury data is available from Bloomberg.
For a more humorous anecdote, check out the work of The Information reporter and Twitter user @coryweinberg, who is keeping track of the names of "snappy one-word names" for scooter companies.
The scooter war no one is talking about: The leader—far and away—for the category of snappy one-word names for scooter startups is "action verb."
Inanimate objects is playing catch up. Bird deserves more credit for bucking industry trends. pic.twitter.com/C6NZm7DyKp
— Cory Weinberg (@coryweinberg) January 23, 2019
We've always preferred action verbs to all other forms of words, too.
Now onto the bis list of scooter stories in the categories traditional to Planetizen's "Scooter Media Brief" posts, with some duplications from the articles linked above.