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The Costs and Benefits of Electric Scooters In Cities

By: Kushal Chattopadhyay


Electric scooters, or e-scooters, are becoming increasingly commonplace in cities across the United States. In 2018 itself, over 85,000 e-scooters across 100 American cities had racked up about 38.5 million trips, as tallied by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. These e-scooters have proven to be extremely popular, environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional transportation modes; a Chicago survey of e-scooter riders revealed that nearly 120 tons of CO2 were reduced through reductions in usage of ride-hailing (42%) and driving (23%). Through effective analysis of the costs and benefits of e-scooters, cities will be able to accordingly incorporate infrastructure to sustain fleets of increasingly carbon-neutral scooters in cities and provide riders a safe, effective, and whimsical mode of transportation.


In a perfect world, e-scooters are just as safe as bicycles: they both are required to be ridden in bike lanes or on roads, they both go at similar speeds, and they both command the use of helmets. They are also exceptionally practical for riders in traffic or in downtowns; e-scooters and bikes can bypass standstill traffic on major thoroughfares and park on sidewalks. However, as a result of both misinformation on proper riding rules and inadequate e-scooter infrastructure, research has shown that e-scooter riders consistently sustain more injuries per mile than bike riders, a perceived cost of the scooters. When bike lanes are unavailable, many e-scooter riders illegally ride on sidewalks due to either misinformation or fear of riding on busy roads. If riders do choose to follow guidelines and ride instead in car lanes, their e-scooters weaving between cars and disobeying traffic laws can slow down car traffic and increase the risk of accidents.


These dangerous consequences of e-scooter usage in downtowns, coupled with riders’ slow learning curves, have made solutions to accommodate the new mode of transportation necessary. Signage which warns against sidewalk riding, automatic deactivation of e-scooters when sidewalks are detected, and education on how to safely operate e-scooters on roads are potential short-term solutions to externalities caused by e-scooters in cities which lack infrastructure for them. E-scooter companies must additionally work with city governments to establish regulations and make them transparent via social media publicity and media. In the long run, however, cities must invest in effective bike lanes and paths while removing obstacles such as potholes before e-scooters will truly be safe in downtowns.


Notwithstanding the drawbacks, e-scooters are undoubtedly making a name for themselves across the United States, with their explosive growth propelling the market size to reach a projected $35 billion by 2028. Their accessibility and practicality make them obvious choices for getting around a city, and the sheer amount of companies vying for riders in cities exemplifies their success. It is clear that e-scooters will be here to stay; when cities start accounting for them via safe pathways, signage, and precautions, this safe, economical, and eco-friendly mode of transportation along with its rider population will be able to thrive.

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