Scooters: It’s Not About the Technology – It’s About How They Were Rolled Out

by on October 2, 2019 · 9 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Last week, our good friend Brett Warnke gave a “full-throated defense”  for those scooters scattered around about town. He adores them and thinks “they’re the best idea to come to San Diego in a hell of a long time,” and wants to “subsidize thousands more of the damn things in low-income neighborhoods, in addition to more bicycles.”

His rant is all about the technology and eco-friendly advance that will save us from ourselves (rising sea levels, polluted air, etc), but fears we’re about to regulate them and ourselves “backward into a political logjam,” due to our “reactionary debates disguised as ‘progressive’ or ‘safety-concerns’.

Brett does usher in some good ideas – but he misses the main point about scooters that has upset, angered and frustrated the residents of the neighborhoods where the machines were dumped.

It’s not about the technology; it’s about how the scooters were rolled out in the first place.

It’s about how thousands of them – first the e-bikes, then the scooters – were literally dumped into communities without their say-so, without public approval – and even knowledge; it’s about the undemocratic nature of the decisions by our lassez-faire political leaders that paved the road for them. (This is French for “abstention by governments from interfering in the workings of the free market.”)

It’s also about the dangers and risks caused by these 2-wheeled vehicles for riders uneducated or learned in how they roll.

And that’s what happened. Our local government declined to set any limits or rules for the scooters when they first flowed like German beer at Oktoberfest onto our streets, sidewalks and public space. This was very lassez-faire capitalism at its finest. I know Brett is not a big supporter of out-of-control capitalism but this fact has slipped his analysis.

And again, it’s not about the technology. Scooters – under the right conditions – may very well aid us humans in getting out of our cars (and buses?), reducing the carbon, the waste, and making us happier.

Brett jokes with us as he sprinkles like confetti little quotes throughout his post, some of them made me laugh out loud. The little quotes also point out how Brett is spicing up his rant with a little satire – enough to show he knows there’s cracks in his rant.

Like, ‘But who cares about all those infrastructure problems?” and then a few lines after he says this: “We have huge basic infrastructure problems even as the world speeds up.” And “new [corral] stations that ‘take up public space’ only take up red-zones that, if needed, could be quickly plowed over my fire trucks without issue.” Then, “In terms of personal safety, in my view, you pay your money and you take your choice in life,” and for all the accidents, Brett brushes those concerns aside with, ” a lot of these injuries on scooters involve alcohol” and cites a study that states half of all scooter accidents are caused by drunk riders.

Yet, who could argue with his observation:

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.

But he slides by the other concerns, the dumping, the corporate-take-over of more of our public space and the misrepresentations the bicycle and scooter companies make about their products, their business-models, and even whether they placed their machines in our neighborhoods at all.

There’s now evidence to suggest the scooters are not all that eco-friendly but I’ll save that for another day.

Let’s take on the safety issue. Brett is anti-helmet – (and maybe he is voting for Todd Gloria for mayor, as it was Gloria who co-authored Sacramento legislation that took scooter riders off the hook and made helmets optional.) Meanwhile, in just one week – about two months ago – there were three people left with skull-fractures from scooter accidents.

The response from our ranter was to sweep those concerns aside by blaming it all on drunk riders. But I can tell you with certainty that being drunk is not an excuse for having accidents. (When I practiced law, I defended hundreds of DUI defendants – and the law changed long ago to take drunk people off the hook for their crashes and injuries.) Just the other day, a young woman was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison for being so drunk one night while driving her car, she took the life of an OBcean coming home.

Injured riders and other victims are crowding our emergency rooms; there’s now more injuries from scooters than from bicycle or pedestrian accidents. Here’s a report from the OB Rag in March of this year:

In late January, a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found scooters are more dangerous than riding a bike or walking. UCLA medical personnel looked at about 250 patients who went to L.A. area ERs during a one-year period with scooter-related injuries. They found:

    • only 4.4 percent were definitely wearing helmets and 8.4 percent weren’t even riding the scooters themselves.
    • during the same 1-year period, there were ER visits for 195 biking and 181 for walkers.
    • Roughly 30 percent of the people with scooter injuries taken to ERs came by ambulance — “an indication of the severity of their injuries.”
    • Falls were responsible for the vast majority of the injuries — around 80 percent;
    • next most common was a collision with an object, which caused 11 percent of injuries,
    • followed by “being struck by a moving vehicle such as a car, bicycle or other scooter,” which triggered 9 percent of ER visits;
    • non-riders who got hurt included walkers who tripped on a discarded scooter and people hit by someone riding a scooter.
    • Doctors judged 5 percent of the people with scooter injuries to be drunk, or to have blood alcohol content above 0.05 percent;
    • head injuries were most common, resulting in 40 percent of ER visits,
    • followed by fractures at 32 percent and cuts, bruises or sprains at 28 percent.
    • Of the 249 people brought to the L.A. ERs over the year-long period, 15 were ultimately admitted to a hospital — and two of those had to be put in intensive care, researchers said.
    • (there were another 74 possibly scooter-related ER visits kept out of the study because they “lacked sufficient documentation.”)

The costs to society with un-regulated scooters is plain to see. Okay, San Diego has passed some regulations but they don’t go far enough.  Mayor Faulconer’s rules place no limits on the numbers of scooters each company can dump and toss onto our streets, corners, sidewalks and parks.

Our ranter-in-chief says there are too many regulations already. Whether it’s done tongue-in-cheek or not, we have to look at the history of automobile use, and dangers and risks.

How many car drivers died before society learned to install stop signs or stop lights at busy intersections? How many died before speed limits were enacted and enforced? These rules are came down decades ago so how are we to know. Well, how many adults and children died before seat-belts became mandatory? This is something that happened during many of our lifetimes, the seat belt laws.

We as a society learn slowly and we only usually make safety reforms after too many have been injured. Now, it’s the same with these e-scooters. The scooter companies are supposed to educate their riders but … don’t hold your breath on that one.

The take-over of public space and causing dangers to others is a very big deal. The scooters are driven down our sidewalks by hapless riders, uneducated about how powerful the machines are. How many pedestrians had to get out of the way when one approached on the concrete path meant for feet?

And then the scooters are thrown and left in our streets and public right of way. Okay, there’s the corrals – but even the corrals pose safety risks – almost too many to mention here. With as many scooters and bikes that can be crammed into the white-painted boxes, they block street views and remove spaces where one can pull over temporarily.

Besides, that’s our public space. There’s just too much take-over of our public space by private companies and corporations where the bottom line is their main concern, not the health and safety of the neighborhoods where their machines were unleashed. The scooter companies even forced the City of San Diego to send our tax-dollar-paid employees out to paint the boxes.

One analogy; imagine if when automobiles became popular and cheap enough for common people to afford them, that instead the cars were leased by the hour; and to get one, all you had to do is walk up to one – parked in lines of cars up and down all of our streets and roads – taking up our public space for private profit. That wouldn’t have come down – but that’s what is happening with the scooters.

There’s just too much giving by the City and its residents to these companies and our metropolis is not getting anything in return. That’s one reason City councilwoman Barbara Bry has called for a moratorium on scooters, as part of her mayoral campaign.

So, again, it’s not about the technology; scooters do have a promise – but we’re not there yet. It’s about how they were rolled out in the classic neo-capitalist way: “buyer and rider beware – but hey, it’s all about the gig economy, you know, sharing ….”

Well, we’re not sharing anything yet. Perhaps some day, when the scooter companies realize they can lower the price and offer them for sale, not just for lease.



{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric October 2, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Has the introduction of scooters diminished the number of riders on public transportation? I would think if ridership drops then lines will get cut leaving those that are unable to ride scooters or bikes marooned.


ZZ October 2, 2019 at 2:50 pm

“frustrated the residents of the neighborhoods”

Frustrated SOME residents. Nimbys don’t speak for me. Like Brett, I was DELIGHTED, not frustrated, when the scooters came to town.

“There’s now evidence to suggest the scooters are not all that eco-friendly but I’ll save that for another day.”

Good move, because the “evidence” is no different than the anti-hybrid car and global warming skepticism. I’ve linked several times to the extensive report Portland did on scooters. It’s conclusion: a giant reduction in car usage because a big share of scooter rides replace either regular or uber rides. The idea the scooter collection at night offsets this requires wild unrealistic assumptions about how far birdcatchers travel. In reality, bird catchers live all over San Diego and rarely go more than a mile or two to pick them up. And some don’t even drive, but ride them home.

Consider the math: a Bird is used 25 miles over a day. A 4 mile route collecting them picks up 8 of them in a truck or van. That’s 200 miles of bird use, replacing about 75 miles of auto driving (actual results from the Portland study), at a cost of 4 miles of pick-up and even less of drop-off since they go in groups and the app minimizes distance it asks the birdcatchers to drop them.


retired botanist October 2, 2019 at 3:50 pm

Nice going, Frank- good piece! Altho I would still argue that it IS ALSO about the technology, even though it seems to be “battle of the data” right now. So instead of the carbon saga, let’s just say this latest toy adds nothing but momentary glitz to a problem that requires more than limes and birds. Its as irritating as the lately arrived “Cortana” on my PC Windows 10… she does nothing for me, I don’t want to talk to her, I’d like to remove her, but I can’t! And in 6 months her “app” will be replaced by something else that is useless fluff no one really needs.
Now for ZZ:
1. Do you have ANY idea how overused the whole NIMBY thing is?! Sick to death of it, can we find another bashing phrase for people who might be more cerebrally oriented, and less self-centered, in their opposition?
2. Re Portland’s “extensive report”. First of all, San Diego is not Portland, and neither is DC, Miami, or any other place that has been overrun by scooter mania. How can you possibly equate Portland’s public transportation system with other large cities?! Particularly SD, which happens to have a comparatively poor system?
3. For all the clever math, if it were actually worth it, anyone could easily pencil up some opposing arithmetic.
If you and Brett love scooters, by all means go buy one! Or a Vespa. Or an electric bike. Or a segway. But try not to shove it down the throats of those who choose not to endorse this sharing, gig, shiny, momentary bling stuff. :-)


ZZ October 2, 2019 at 4:42 pm

If the NIMBY show fits…

You can disable cortana completely. I don’t remember how as I did it years ago right after I purchased my pc. I also installed Classic Shell which makes Windows 10 closer to Windows 7, old start menu style etc. It is free and has worked well for me for years.


retired botanist October 2, 2019 at 5:23 pm

Thx for the tip, ZZ. :) Not to detract from the subject, I do actually have the classic shell and the start menus is as of days of yore, but Microsoft’s latest update, which I try and avoid as long as possible until they simply overrride me, added Cortana to my taskbar ( I can’t remove her), changed my background and directory displays, doesn’t give me options for dispensing with updates, and generally overreaches on a product I bought outright and should have complete control over! Haha, its just another form of encroachment I chafe against! Like scooters in my public space! :-)


Doug Blackwood October 2, 2019 at 5:50 pm

I was on the beach yesterday: scooters were littered everywhere; on the sand, Saratoga Park, and the street! When leaving a young lady was attempting to navigate traffic on Santa Monica & Bacon; she appeared confused by the scooter operation: I waited for her.
I am still mystified why scooter corrals are in red zones; instead of paid parking lots?
There are simply too many scooters! Jen Campbell, where are you on this issue?


Vern October 3, 2019 at 9:51 am

Going south on Sunset Cliffs Blvd last week, I watched one of these hapless scooter renters zipping along the (east) sidewalk, then swerve into oncoming north bound traffic, then swerved into the southbound traffic and up onto the (west) sidewalk. He was moving so fast, he lost control, the front wheel turned in on him and he slammed into a neighbor’s fence just south of Brighton.
Good thing no one was on the sidewalk walking, in a wheelchair or in a stroller, etc. at that moment.
Needless to say the rider left the scooter where he crashed (otherwise called “parking” in rental e-scooter lingo) and limped off.


retired botanist October 3, 2019 at 10:56 am

Haha, I really shouldn’t laugh but, honestly, all the old Rowan&Martin Laugh-In clips where the guy riding the trike falls over immediately spring to mind :-)


Brett A Warnke October 3, 2019 at 10:50 am

A strong and sharp response, Frank. The public space argument and retorts about the rollout are very good. However, as a realist, if we’re going to have public space disintegrating all around us for property-owners and profit (in an increasingly unaffordable neighborhood with wandering goon squads chasing homeless people) I’d prefer we have non-carbon emitting scooters. The criticism of the eco-friendly nature of the bikes is another compelling argument–it will be interesting to see if, as the technology advances, the carbon emissions for pick up, etc. can be lowered. We’ll have to duke it out again, Frank, as Trump’s lawsuits go forward and as communities continue to push back against the scooters and circle the wagons.


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