Are electric scooters good for cities?

Yelling out “look at that bird!” holds a different meaning these days. No, people are not pointing at the sky to share their sighting of a rare cardinal, but rather pointing out millennials (mostly) riding around on the new electric scooters that seem to litter city streets and corners.

If you have spent any time on the west side of Los Angeles, Denver, Nashville, or any other major city, there’s a chance you’ve seen this new mode of transportation. As of now, there are two companies that are dominating the electric scooter game—Bird and Lime, and they are making it too easy for people to ride them.

Some studies have recently shown that these scooters are being used more and more in heavily populated cities, which in turn reduces the number of vehicles on the road. According to a new study conducted by the city of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, 62 percent of the city’s population thought the scooters were a positive impact on the community. In addition to the majority taking the scooters’ side, 34 percent of those who rode scooters and are Portland residents said that they used a scooter rather than a rideshare app or a personal car, while 48 percent of visitors did the same.

But, some cities are not fans of the Bird’s and are arguing that they are dangerous; even going as far as banning them. Will this stop people from hopping on one and cruising to that afternoon yoga class for some namaste?

What’s the Hype?

Similar to Uber and Lyft, electric scooters are convenient, affordable and in all honesty, fun. It’s simple—an app is downloaded to your iPhone or Android and then proceeds to show you a map, which is similar to what a rideshare app looks like. You find a scooter that is close by, walk to its destination and simply scan the QR code to unlock it. Suddenly, you’re flying down the street to your next destination—without having to wait for a car—for half of the price.

In addition to being super convenient, another element that makes these scooters so popular is that they are environmentally friendly. According to Bird’s website homepage, their “mission is to make cities more livable by reducing car usage, traffic, and carbon emissions.” In cities that are heavily polluted such as Los Angeles, these scooters make sense. But, there is always a downside to any new trend.

Dangerous Birds

In addition to studies being conducted about the increase in usage, there are also people out there who are looking at the negative effects. In a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from UCLA gathered that in Los Angeles, nearly 250 people were admitted to Emergency Rooms for scooter-related injuries, and only 10 of those patients were wearing a helmet.

Rules require that when riding, a helmet is required, but there are no helmets attached to the scooters. It’s rare that anyone just has a helmet handy for when they are ready to ride…unless they are heading to a fun cannonball excursion (because, you know, LA)

Not only are Bird accidents becoming more frequent, but they are also frequently broken. It is becoming more and more common that scooters are destroyed, broken, and littered on the side of roads. There is even an Instagram account (see, millennials?) called Bird Graveyard, where users submit photos of abandoned birds in odd places, such as buried in the ground.

A Bird’s Future

Both Bird and Lime are reportedly each worth $2 billion, and both have inspired independent entrepreneurs and small businesses to replicate the e-scooter model. There are already 150 different companies around the world.

As more studies are being conducted, it will be interesting to see whether cities favor the public’s health and ban scooters because of injuries, or if they will continue to see if public transportation can be reshaped by the fun and convenient ride.

For now, we just hope there are less bird-related injuries.

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