They’re back in San Francisco.

As locals hop aboard, complain about the scooters taking up street space, compete to collect and charge them, and hurl them into lakes, municipalities are left to wonder: How do we manage these things? Some, like Austin, have decided to let the companies be. Others, like San Francisco and Santa Monica, have cracked down, limiting which companies can operate, and how.

As with Uber, Vancouver is apparently being cautious.  Or has it just not had to confront the scooter reality when some venture-bro decides to dump them on us?

For more background, Michael Alexander provides this link to VoxElectric scooters’ sudden invasion of American cities, explained.

(Turns out there’s a lot of latent demand for a quick and cheap way to get around.)

The Wired article concludes:

Officials also see this as a do-over, a chance to regulate a new mobility option in the way they never did for Uber and Lyft, when those options stormed into cities less than a decade ago. “Cities learned two things: to be open to new stuff,” says Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant . “And you need to guide the introduction, be partners in guiding, testing, and piloting.”

So Vancouver, what’s your plan?


    1. I think the scooter has legs, though I fear that my perception is skewed for my desire for alternatives to the car.

      I strongly agree with skepticism about technology, which is often over-hyped. But it often fails before it succeeds. Remember the Apple Newton? Microsoft’s 1999 Tablet PC? Both failed – then iPhone and the iPad made the technology ubiquitous.

      I suspect that the Segway failed beacuse it was too expensive to take a chance on. It was also bulky (where to park it at the destination?) and it lacked infrastructure. A cheap scooter or used car that can drive on any road ties it on price and beats it on utility. I can’t comment on hoverboards; I’ve never tried one, but they look to me like an early experiment in the currently-shaking-out scooter category.

      I have not tried one, but razor-style electric scooters are cheap enough to take a risk on (about $500 I believe), compact (you could stash one under your desk), and at least triple the range of a person on foot. When I look around Brentwood, I see an area perfectly designed for scooters. Bike paths are standard on new sidewalks, so limiting clashes with pedestrians or cars. The distances are just a bit far for walking: 15-20 minutes to Hastings, or between Holdom and Gilmore. A scooter gives one access to the *entire town centre* in about 5-7 minutes.

      In the 1920s, American cities experienced street car traffic jams. While governments dithered on building subways and els, ordinary citizens had to move – so they just got on with it, and individually went out and bought cars. They created the demand, governments responded with infrastructure, and the rest is (tragic) history.

      Look at Vancouver today. Population is rising. Traffic is becoming unbearable but is physically impossible to fix. Transit is decent, but it’s not nearly adequate and suffers from a list mile problem. It’s the same scenario as in the 20s (albeit with better governance). As before, there is a way that individuals can just get on with it: they can take a scooter to transit and opt out of traffic. The need exists; all the pieces are already there. I think it’s just a matter of time.

      What about the bicycle you say? It has greater speed and range, but it is bulky, expensive and easily stolen, demands greater commitment and is significantly dangerous. In many places the infrastructure is not there (roads with car traffic don’t count). There is a culture of performance and expertise that has built up around them that is very off-putting. Also, people are lazy (watch them try to save 15 seconds walking when they park). Yet the bicycle is succeeding – and will continue to succeed, for the same reasons as the scooter. But I think there is room for both.

      I agree with the article that we need to get ahead of this. I’m amazed at the silliness in places like San Francisco: just regulate! I’d like to see a design speed limit for scooters permitted on sidewalks (maybe 12km/h, or about 3x walking), rules about where they can be dropped, and norms for securing them from theft or taking them into buildings.

      1. I disagree with one of your statements. Bicycles are inherently safe. It’s just that at this point in history many environments that they’re forced to be used in are unsafe. An important distinction.

        I agree about motor traffic congestion. There is no solution other than to opt out of it. I say we have a multi-modal approach and try lots of things. Scooters, bikes, transit, etc.

        If scooters are allowed in the bike lanes (like skate boards are) then it’ll be fine. It’ll be just another medium speed travel device.

        The first generation scooter fad already happened almost twenty years ago with the Razer scooters. They were a useful last-mile thing for many people. Now they’re back and have motors.

        1. Scooters (and skateboards) are currently allowed in the bike lanes. But only if they are push scooters and push skateboards.

          Powered scooters and powered skateboards are not allowed in the bike lanes in Vancouver (or on the sidewalks, or on the street).

          1. Right, but the question is “should they be?”

            Same dilemma with e-bikes – do they belong in MV lanes, bike lanes, or something completely different?

          2. There are two separate issues here: What devices are allowed or should be allowed on various types of infrastructure, and separately to that, how do various device-sharing companies work and what are the impacts relating to where their devices are parked or stored.

            Just looking at the first point, I don’t think it matters much what type of device is allowed in a bike lane, it is far more important to consider how it is being used. As a person frequently riding a bike, I have no problem with a skateboard or push scooter in the bike lane, as long as they hold a straight line, keep to the right, call out when they are overtaking, have some sort of light or reflector at night, and respect other path users. Same rules for all.

            For powered devices, there should be a distinction between devices with an assist (eg a pedal bike, with an electric assist) vs throttled devices where there is no need to pedal or push, you can just turn the throttle. The former are more like bikes and push scooters. The latter are more like low speed motorcycles, and should be regulated as such IMO.

        2. “Bicycles are inherently safe.”

          Yes. You’re right. It’s cars that make cycling dangerous. Cyclists can hurt pedestrians – I’ve been hit, and my lovely neighbour died cycling into a bridge cable. But compared to everything except sneakers, bicycles are safe.

  1. Did it ever occur to anyone that perhaps there is a upper limit to density, a not so sweet spot where everything becomes gridlocked due to a lack of actual physical space in which to move?

    1. There may be. If density were allowed to increase without constraint, I see two possible points at which it could stop: 1) when there is not enough physical space to live, 2) when there is not enough physical space to move. Which would come first? Or, which is greater: does a person need more space to live, or to move? (Which is greater: car parking space, or car road space? I presume the latter. But people are not cars. They don’t just sit inert.)

      It’s an interesting question, but I think it’s an irrelevant one. The barrier you will hit with increasing density is price, not space. For density to get so high, it must be driven by demand: which means real estate prices through the roof. So the real question is, what’s the driver? I think the answer is the (so-called) knowledge economy – so long as we have that, the trend will continue.

      In an industrial economy (even moreso in a pre-industrial economy), the value of land is driven primarily by geographic features – resources, waterways, trade routes, farmland. The sawmill on the river creates jobs, which attracts workers, which increases demand for property.

      In an information economy, the value of land is detached from geographic constraints. The only thing that matters is being close to the source of value, which is concentrations of businesses. Land is valuable, in other words, because it is close to other people. The more people (of the right kind, a huge can of worms), the more value. The dense get denser, the rich get richer, and inequality skyrockets.

      Your real barrier may not be price, but immiseration. The poor pay the highest per-square-metre rents of anybody, because they *need* to be close to the centre to have any chance of getting work. The pattern repeats the world over, as Mike Davis explains in Planet of Slums. Those best positioned to block to the process may not be those at the rich, dense centre, but those farther away who yet still have enough influence to have an impact. (A good slice of Trump voters, in other words.)

      You want to stop gridlock? Reduce education. In the words of Matthew Crawford, university “detects existing inequalities, exacerbates them, and certifies them.” Do that, and inequality will drop, the sharp curve of wealth from the metropolitan centres will moderate, the economy will disperse. Gridlock seems trivial in comparison, but I suppose it will help that too.

      Not a great solution, but I’m afraid it’s all I’ve got. I’d love to hear alternatives to just folding up democracy and handing it to the technocrats.

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