Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Guilty scooters, innocent cars

September 5, 2019News


Another NYTimes story on those pesky, disruptive and downright dangerous electric scooters. The Times ran a very similar story just two months ago, Scooter Madness, from Memphis. It’s a common theme.

In our upcoming book, Hop Skip Go, we discuss scooters in the Los Angeles chapter (Inching Toward Topanga Canyon). They can be a valuable last-mile component, supporting public transit. I was doing reporting in Santa Monica, where my co-author John Rossant now lives. Bird and Lime were new in town. And it was great to zip on scooters two miles to the Metro line, and catch the train downtown. I could move around in LA without renting a car.

The coverage in the Times is the technology equivalent of ethnocentrism. The writers happen to be looking at the world from the perspective of a motorist. So even though our cars soil the air and contribute massively to planet warning, even though we’ve molded the world to their every need, entire urban topographies in blacktop, and even though an estimated 1.35 million human beings die every year in auto accidents, it’s the scooters that are dangerous and intrusive.

Of course, people should ride and park the scooters responsibly, and wear helmets. And the scooters' corporate owners should work with cities, instead of bulling their way in markets. What's more, their business model isn't terribly eco-friendly. Their short lifecycles render the contraptions almost disposable. Also, a lot of energy is spent trucking them around town for refueling and deployment. 

But the far bigger problems in cities come from cars. We need fewer of them. Scooters can and should be part of the solution.


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