The Case For More Scooters in San Diego: A Full-throated Defense of an Extraordinary Invention

by on September 26, 2019 · 33 comments

in Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach circa 1890

By Brett Warnke

I adore e-scooters.  I think they’re the best idea to come to San Diego in a hell of a long time.  If it were up to me, I’d subsidize thousands more of the damn things in low-income neighborhoods, in addition to more bicycles.

If it were up to me, I’d do studies to see where we could lessen commute times for semi-local traffic, find new lots for additional scooter parking, and if need be, provide space and training for them at schools as well.  From Facebook freaks in the Bay to refugee kids in City Heights, I think everyone should have one handy for the day’s commutes.

Yet, we may, because of reactionary debates disguised as “progressive” or “safety-concerns” be regulating our way backward into a political logjam.

As our brilliant readers know, just in February, San Diego needed an extra $1.86 billion over five years for infrastructure needs for city sidewalks, new streetlights, new libraries, among others.  These needs in addition to funding for road modifications, bike facilities, bridge needs which were short $674.8 million (and all this after the gas tax). That stooge Mayor Faulconer’s been lauding the recent budget but we know that the city’s five-year shortfall to fund projects is $286 million higher than the previous year.

But who cares about all those infrastructure problems?

Well, in an era of political deformity and ecological crisis, we need new ideas for mobility as we debate funding old infrastructure.  The Green New Deal may not come. We have huge basic infrastructure problems even as the world speeds up.

We have a looming water-crisis among other oceanic catastrophes in the next century.  An ass-backwards Senate and the dull ostriches in rural America are increasingly blocking any investment in tomorrow. Consequently, we may be increasingly on our own in the future when developing our transportation.  Today, we are even fighting with the feds over our carbon regulations.

Historically speaking, the big boys won.  Special interests shoved their fat greedy fingers around our necks and squeezed out the road cash.  They suckered the politicians in for the long con. The oil and gas and rubber and car companies ripped out our public transportation.

And the honking suburbanites built their tacky ass homes and Jetson highways north, south, and east. The rest of us, especially the young, had little choice in paying for any of it or being forced by necessity to sit in it, day after day, burning expensive gas.

Some will call scooters unsafe.

First, new stations that “take up public space” only take up red-zones that, if needed, could be quickly plowed over my fire trucks without issue.

In terms of personal safety, in my view, you pay your money and you take your choice in life. A lot of these injuries on scooters involve alcohol. A new study in Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open found that out of 103 patients treated at 3 trauma centers for e-scooter related injuries, 79% were tested for booze.  48% were over .08.

There are exceptions to this, but drunk people have hurt themselves since German monks wandered drunkenly into the Rhine with their first cups. How about some personal responsibility? Perhaps we should think about our need to address the problem of excess consumption, the silly junk culture, the frivolous indulgence—all this could be looked at as opposed to easing transportation for an increasingly taxed, traffic-jammed, and constricted public concerned about their future.

Today, we have few choices now of getting around in a timely carbon-free manner.  And as we all know, the climate crisis is over us like a shining blade. The kicking up of carbon and warming of our planet through fossil fuel emissions is a terrifyingly present threat.  (Of course, this is mainly the result of large awful corporations, but cars do their deadly part.)

We need new ideas for individual mobility and scooters are going to reduce traffic, avoid the ever-present demands for new roads and new parking in urban spots where we need density.

As Californians, we don’t seem to have gasping “safety” concerns paying for whole skate parks so dweebs can fumble about and break their limbs on the concrete.  Yet, we can’t have practical scooters for people to move through our neighborhoods? We can’t reclaim parking lots or certain zones as charging areas or safe docks?  We can’t think ahead enough to get out of our own way to allow the individual liberty of movement? Now, in urban California?

Some argue there should be regulations.

Well, there have been regulations.  Far too many, in my opinion, but docking areas and ticketing are increasing as are clear norms and rules of the road.

Recent rules limit speeds in some areas, demand permitting for operators, and force driver’s license scanning.  I disagree with all of these of course.

Personally, I want to give low-income people, recovering drunks, and young teens a means of quick transportation around a populating and expensive California.  Our weather is perfect for these scooters, amenable to constant use.

Also, I despise the campus prohibition on these and wish we had more scooters around the place. I want more carbon-free and carbon-diminished liberty of movement, not less.  I want us walking, biking, even moped-ing, in addition to scooting.

If it were up to me, I would offer a buy-back of our killer cars, especially for those conscientious people hoping to diminish their carbon footprint. And I’d incentivize and encourage new apps for tracking our daily movements without cars so we could get subsidies for non-emission commutes.

Clearly, California can regulate.

We regulate business to the point of insanity.  And soon, if we aren’t careful, we will regulate these helpful scooters to the point of diminishing returns and be right back where we started—in a tedious discussion, with all the joy of an impacted tooth, sitting in silly quibbles over a few funds with our pre-made car-era geography.  We know the coward pols will buckle to the class of property-owner assholes, they have money and think the world owes them a parking space.

In our time, massive infrastructure changes may not come despite our needs.  Our buses are glacially slow and even basic bike lanes have been a knife fight with property owners who want to shuffle to their SUV’s.  Local reactionary groups are fighting even these bike lanes uptown, targeting local representatives for challenge, just as NIMBY groups are battling affordable housing and density throughout the state.

These organizations have formed a terrible rearguard action that threaten the future of affordability and may exacerbate progressive initiatives to get Southern California building more non-luxury homes.

Are the scooter-haters really saying we don’t have space for scooter storage?  We looped highways through Barrio Logan and ruined neighborhoods. We necklaced the city in traffic and turned San Diego into a sprawling mess with no thought of our future generation’s need for density and a carbon-free world.

With our need for movement, the current climate crisis, and the past of all this thoughtless subsidy, some argue that we can’t come up with a few quick reforms and easy places to dock some neighborhood scooters.

It’s so fatuous it could make a cat laugh!

Are they really arguing we can’t make it easier for publicly-minded citizens to stay local, to move locally? The smart set today really can’t think of a few ways to incentivize people who park these things properly or punish the slobs?  These are ridiculously low-expectations. Perhaps even the shrieking dunces at OB Neighborhood Watch could figure something out together? Perhaps on one of their odious, vigilante night-sticking operations to bedevil our local poor they could have a short chat about it?

Regardless, I know together we can do better.

Californians want to get to different parts of their neighborhoods and visitors want to explore different parts of the country in a swift, easy, and fun way.  However, in our neoliberal era, time is crunched and infrastructure is screwed. In their free moments, people want to enjoy our weather, stay out of awful cars, and have an eco-friendly method of moving freely around the infrastructural malaise of San Diego.

Our city is moving in the right direction on community choice energy.  We have climate warriors at SD 350 doing extraordinary work for the future of life in Southern California.  Scooters are one means for our future. These scooters, while irksome to a few plaintive howlers, are an effective means of circumventing the political logjams.  The infrastructure solutions if they even arrive will be terribly compromised, expensive and insufficient.

Also, in terms of safety, scooters are one way to move around and avoid those dodgy areas, the catcall and menace of corner bums taking up so much public debate.  Just today, I saw a working woman in heels riding them past encampments on her way to work in the East Village.  I have seen students taking them to the campus edge. And I have seen young people in groups, in small fleets down the street in a beautiful bird-like formation.

I say as forcefully as I can:  Abolish the helmet restrictions!  Put more of them in our densest neighborhoods!  And may a thousand scooters hum!

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar ZZ September 26, 2019 at 11:48 am

A Brett article I can agree with! The florid writing style however….

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Avatar Geoff Page September 26, 2019 at 12:34 pm

I see a lot to agree with in Brett’s piece. The one thing I do not agree with is abolishing the helmet requirement. Helmets are required for any other mode of motorized transportation outside of a car. If people like the scooters, buying and having your own helmet should not be much different than requiring reusable grocery bags. This from a person who was hit by a car on a regular street scooter, a 125cc Honda. My head hit the ground and it would have been mush worse without one.

But, other than that, I agree the scooters do make sense. Finding a parking spot in downtown OB is nearly impossible anymore, not to mention the beach, so the scooters do serve a purpose. My main complaint is not the scooters but the incredibly inconsiderate people who keep leaving them in the middle of sidewalks. My only other complaint is that the city does not seem to have gotten anything from the scooter companies in return for use of the streets, that needs to be fixed.

As for the florid writing style, Brett does write very well but I do have to wonder why he has gotten so combative. Frustration probably. But, you can accomplish just as much with good writing, some of this is defeating his purpose unless it is a purposeful mechanism to get people talking. The sure worked in his piece about the bad in OB.

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Judi Curry Judi Curry September 26, 2019 at 12:51 pm

Only when the rules of the road are obeyed with people on riding scooters will I be able to be in favor of them. I have seen 11 accidents – some minor; some major only because of carelessness by the rider. Until they are cited for each infraction they commit and until they realize that the rules are for them also, I will not condone them.

Sorry, Bret, but we are 180 0n this one.

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Avatar Geoff Page September 26, 2019 at 2:14 pm

So, are you saying we should ban bicycles too? There are far more of these infractions than there are for the scooters. This is an enforcement issue and one of personal responsibility, like the poor woman who got hurt riding down very steep Newport Ave. without checking the brakes first.

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Avatar Peter from South O September 26, 2019 at 1:33 pm

There is no evidence that scooters are carbon-neutral. Do some research on what studies have been done and the overwhelming conclusion is that there is not enough data yet to make an educated guess. A scooter is supported by roving (and competing) collectors that recharge them, then head out again to distribute them again. The useable lifetime of ride-share scooters is turning out to be a lot shorter than expected, most of them are made overseas, so they must be shipped around the world just to get to us here in SD . . . I could go on and on.
You want to be carbon-neutral? Walk!

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Avatar ZZ September 26, 2019 at 1:46 pm

Don’t know about you Peter, but I emit CO2 when I walk. And I am partially powered by imported food.

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Avatar Peter from South O September 26, 2019 at 4:29 pm

No, ZZ. You do not generate CO2, you merely exhale the CO2 that you have inhaled. The lungs are letting the O2 into your (hopefully walking . . . exercise and all that) bloodstream and blocking the other stuff, like Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide.

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Avatar Geoff Page September 26, 2019 at 4:35 pm

You may want to rethink that answer Peter. See this.

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Avatar Geoff Page September 26, 2019 at 2:12 pm

While I agree the pure carbon neutral position is a weak one when you just focus on the scooter, an argument I hear all the time about electric cars, that is not a good argument for shutting them down. Like electric carts, scooters don’t provide emissions and can reduce air pollution where the scooters or cars are used. The scooters can definitely cut down on car trips, the small trips everyone makes and that should be counted. They can also take the pressure off parking and the exercise of looking for parking.

Walking is not the solution for all of this. Carrying home groceries or other purchases can be difficult, this one area where the scooters can help. Walking takes time and that is a precious commodity for all of us, not always practical. Some people have trouble walking but could ride a scooter. If the only other choice is a car, we’re back where we started.

Carbon neutrality is not the only issue to consider or the only issue to use for banning the scooters.

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Avatar Peter from South O September 26, 2019 at 4:21 pm

Where did I write that I wanted to “shut them down”? I am merely poking a hole in the assertion that scooters are green.

Except for those Limes, of course.

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Avatar Geoff Page September 26, 2019 at 4:31 pm

I didn’t say you personally wanted to shut them down. I said the argument, proliferated by many, against the position that the scooters are carbon neutral is not a reason to shut them down. These arguments come from people who don’t want the scooters and your post surely sounded like that was your position. Poking a hole in one assertion, absent any positive comments, makes it appear you do want them gone. Do you?

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Avatar Peter from South O September 27, 2019 at 4:29 am

No, Geoff, I do not want them banned. Lack of enforcement of the existing traffic regs is causing the majority of the problems mentioned in the comments here, and that is solveable.

It just riles my chickens when the false green flag flies. We have pushed our planet to the tipping point and cannot afford to make non-sustainable mistakes.

Most people I speak with on the subject recoil when I mention that the single most impactful thing that an individual can do to reduce their own carbon footprint is to stop flying. Anywhere. Commercial air transportation (including freight) is 2 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

(They ship the scooters by sea)

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Avatar Geoff Page September 27, 2019 at 10:07 am

Ok, thanks for the answer. I’ve argued with my boss about electric cars, he’s a conservative who supports t-rump, to put him in perspective. He says the electricity that is generated for the cars negates any green value of the cars. What I have yet to see is a study of automobile emissions compared to emissions from electrical generating plants that use fuel. My gut tells me there is a net gain from a variety of cars emitting exhaust compared to what a generating plant is emitting. Yes, the scooters are not carbon neutral, I agree. But, if their presence cuts down on automobile exhaust, should that not count toward their carbon count?

I agree with you about the planes and there are more planes flying than ever and that is increasing every year. No one is saying much about that. Maybe they will come up with an electrically powered plane someday, I’m sure my boss will criticize that too.

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Avatar Vern September 27, 2019 at 7:00 am

Morning Geoff.
It appears most still have to walk to find a scooter, then after dumping it on a sidewalk, in an alley or someone’s front yard, they still have to walk away from it. Mo betta, they have to walk to a “scooter corral”. (Now, forget about riding it back to a “scooter corral” and returning the e-waste to its temporary taxpayer-funded home – too much trouble/not enough time). Remember, many folks set their GPS, drive a car to where scooters are, park in a neighborhood close by, and walk to them and ride them prior to dumping them. Whoa! In some regard, scooters force people to walk, a least a little bit.

Regarding the notion of “time being a precious commodity”, methinks there really is no hurry. Folks would be well served to understand the “shiny object syndrome” a whole lot more.

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Avatar Geoff Page September 27, 2019 at 10:28 am

Interesting perspective, Vern, maybe you’ve highlighted another reason to have the scooters.

I had to look up shiny object syndrome, I always enjoy it when someone says something I need to look up. I get your point. Maybe you’re right. But, I think the idea of some kind of reliable, personal transportation is a thing of the future. Will it be scooters or electric bikes or that cool thing the French guy rode across the English Channel. I’d go for one of those.

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Avatar Vern September 27, 2019 at 10:46 am

Geoff, electric bikes look pretty darn good to me.

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Avatar Vern September 27, 2019 at 9:20 am

Human beings do exhale almost 3 billion tons (+/-) of carbon dioxide annually, but the carbon we exhale is the same carbon that was “inhaled” from the atmosphere by the plants we consume.
A person engaged in vigorous exercise produces up to eight times as much CO2 as his sedentary (scooter-riding) brethren, so the sedentary scooter-rider produces less CO2, during the course of riding a scooter that, via its petro-chemical supply chain, produces more CO2 than it’s human rider.

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Avatar Geoff Page September 27, 2019 at 10:11 am

Vern, check the link I gave Peter above. It appears that we humans actually produce CO2 and exhale more than we inhale.

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Avatar Vern September 27, 2019 at 10:40 am

Hi Geoff. I did check the link. Thanks!

I also stumbled on this fairly current article:

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Avatar Geoff Page September 27, 2019 at 11:03 am

Thanks for that link, Vern, that’s the kind of thing that helps in discussions that are mostly based on opinions. It was interesting that the life of the scooter was a big factor. This could be a good argument for people buying and using their own scooter because they could make them last longer.

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Avatar Nikki R Bose September 26, 2019 at 2:46 pm

I love the birds too! It makes local transportation SO EASY. I even make it out of OB more often…. just over to PB and Mission beach.

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Avatar Richard September 26, 2019 at 3:39 pm

Walk! I’m all for that. I walk 3+ miles a day around OB and I’m 70 years old. Scooters are just toys for hipsters. This too shall pass.

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Avatar Vern September 27, 2019 at 6:32 am

Walking works just fine!
It is true that many folks drive to OB/PL, park in neighborhoods searching for scooters to ride around OB/PL. Then after the “joyride”, get back in their cars and drive back to where ever home is.

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Avatar triggerfinger September 30, 2019 at 4:31 pm

Ok, so the scooters turn previously decent residential parking blocks into a for-profit valet service for tourists. Hmm what other public spaces can we monetize? Maybe we could sell advertising space on our street trees.

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Avatar Chris September 27, 2019 at 7:42 am

“Scooters are just toys for hipsters.” Uhh sure.

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Avatar Geoff Page September 27, 2019 at 11:05 am

You should have left your age out of this, Richard. That immediately relegated you to the dinosaur age. The kids eyes glass over when they hear this from the old timers. I’m closing on 69 myself, so, believe me, I know,

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Avatar Michael September 26, 2019 at 3:48 pm

Brad honey,
I agree with you, scooters are a good thing, as are bicycles. And we don’t need people to buy them; sharing is better.
My problem is not with the scooters, it’s with Bird and the other dudebro startups that dropped them on our streets without warning. These googly wannabes are running some big, expensive rackets. They don’t care about improving transportation or infrastructure (as you so passionately do). Their startups aren’t even profitable — they’re not designed to be. They’re empty shells that will collapse at any moment. And when they do, the apps that power the scooters won’t work anymore. And the douchy founder bros will cash out, leaving all those useless scooters lying around to pollute our parks and rivers.
We’ve seen this story before with the dot-com crash of 2000. And look at WeWork: the asshole CEO was obviously running a front, the board booted him out, but not before paying him several million dollars.
So yeah, scooters and bicycles and nature trails are great. It’s the city that should provide them, not a bunch of MBA dropouts all tripping on ayahuasca.

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Avatar ZZ September 26, 2019 at 9:15 pm

It isn’t that I want to ban all cars from San Diego. I just want to ban cars until they are manufactured not by greedy companies like Toyota and Ford, but by carmelite nuns paid a living wage with full dental benefits while somehow still volunteering for a co-op non-profit that donates its profits to my favorite charities. They also must run not on gas but on lawn clippings and baby diapers which turn into a cool honeysuckle-scented vapor when combusted and which reverses global warming when released into the atmosphere.

Is that so much to ask? Why do greedy businessmen have to be behind everything?

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Avatar Peter from South O September 27, 2019 at 4:31 am

dammit!

There is now coffee all over my monitor.

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Avatar Micporte September 27, 2019 at 9:52 am

my thoughts on scooters, are yes, cool means of transportation, low impact, gig job generators, but, my niece would have saved $200 using a bike to get around on her high School grad vacation present in MB, instead of scooterapping it, and lost a few complaisant kilos in the process, and if my son would have walked or pedaled home slow that night from the high school reunion instead of eati * a scooter h3ndlebar into his spleen,… power to these new power scooterstar5ups, but the but the hey, bikers, pedal power, bike-it, cheap, renewable, on the edge of perpetual motion, I love to ride my bicycle, would queen be singin* abou5 scooters? (probably)

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Avatar korla eaquinta September 27, 2019 at 11:18 am

My problem with scooters is with the City in that it was the “Wild West” when they first appeared with NO regulations nor oversight, seeming to leave the city out of any compensation and left with the problems. Just like the bike share problem.

The city of San Diego and specifically its leadership just lets things happen here. i.e. the Hepatitis outbreak. Just look the other way until something bad happens. The problem is similar with building and density. Let’s add lots of housing without providing any infrastructure! Relaxing building density around transit areas is for existing or PLANNED transit areas. Meaning IF planned in the next 50 year!

Sorry, I digress. It seems to me that is how scooters originated. Safety IS a concern and if one has to wear a helmet to ride a motorcycle or bicycle, one should have to wear a helmet while riding a scooter. This requirement is not enforced as it would severely limit rentals. Who benefits here? AND if someone is injured, where is the liability? How many lawsuits does the city face that are on the taxpayer?

I also don’t appreciate inconsiderate users who dump their scooters wherever they like. And by the way, scooter corrals are not in all neighborhoods. There are none over here in Roseville!

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Avatar Chris September 28, 2019 at 8:03 am
Avatar Rufus September 29, 2019 at 6:31 am

I guess I’m part of the few irksome plaintive howlers on the scooter issue.

And you have me howling with laughter on all the “carbon footprint” hooey you spewed. Give me your elevator speech about carbon’s effect on the environment and please, no hackneyed phrases. Give me the data.

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