Scooters: Last Mile Savior or Pavement Terror?

By: Andreas Weissenborn, Senior Director of Research at Destinations International

By now, if you have lived in any major city across the United States, you’ve no doubt seen, heard, or been narrowly hit by the latest ride sharing disruptor: electric scooters.

Scooter GIF

Scooters and similar two wheeled modes of transportation have been around for more than 20 years. In fact, I remember as a teenager having the old gas powered ones which had the rip start like my family lawn mower. It was loud, semi-dangerous, but also thrilling knowing the power of an internal combustible engine could be paired down to something that could sit between my feet. However, the biggest difference between now and then - outside of the tech and deployment of them - is their intended use. My old scooter was never anything more than a fun recreational activity to blast around my neighborhood. 2019 scooters are used as a viable last mile transportation solution for work, leisure and personal errands.

What is a Last Mile?

We as a society largely understand the link between access to transportation that leads to economic development.

Let’s describe what last mile is. Last mile is a term used in supply chain management and transportation planning to describe the movement of people and goods from a transportation hub to a final destination. This might not come as a surprise, but most of us who must travel to a dense urban area struggle with traveling the last mile in anything other than our car - myself included. I live within a mile of my town's train station that takes me into Washington D.C. However, because of the lack of sidewalks, bike friendly roads, or other local public transportation options, I must drive every morning and evening to and from the station.

We as a society largely understand the link between access to transportation that leads to economic development. Similar to our own Tourism Lexicon, transportation is largely seen as a supported bipartisan public good. Yet, then why is sentiment largely seen as negative to the likes of Bird, Lime, Scoot, Skip, Spin, and more?

Is it because like any disruptor, our human instinct is to naturally shoot it down instead of embracing it? Or combat against another addition to roads and streets (and in some cases sidewalks) that were never designed to move anything other than cars? Or the temptation of abuse and disregard for traffic laws? The latter is a long held critic of the biking community before it. In fact, many of the same critiques regarding current scooters were used against bicycles in the 1800s. Don’t believe me? Take the a look at the following quiz The Washington Post put together comparing sentiment from then versus now. (Author's note: I only got a 6/10.)

A best-case solution would be light touch regulation followed by dedicated resources towards rethinking our streets to incorporate said mode of transport.

One consistent critique of ride-sharing scooters is safety - largely from the immediate abundance, low barrier to access, and lack of need for personal ownership. These private companies simply show up to a city with a couple hundred scooters, place them in public areas without consent, and largely leave the app to people to figure out the rest. Obviously, they are leaving out any regard for city and resident input on this deployment.

From there, if you are old enough to have a smart phone, then you can easily access many of these scooter services. Because of this low barrier of entry, lots of people can hop on a scooter without any type of prior experience in a safe and controlled environment. I’m sure many remember their parents putting training wheels on their bikes and allowing you to practice in your driveway or cul de sac before you were comfortable taking the training wheels off and then venturing out on your own. The scooters of today are marvelous technological devices; however, they still follow the same laws of gravity, physics, and inertia that must be understood and respected.

Since their onset, research has been slow but finally starting to trickle out regarding safety and regulation. One such study points out the common injuries occurring from scooter usage and the growing need to mandate age and helmet use. Simply put, scooters are a tool, one that enables humans to travel at speeds faster than many of us can run (I know I can’t hit 15 mph). As such, that opens us up to the potential of injuring ourselves and those around us. A best-case solution might be light touch regulation (minimum age limit, helmet restrictions, and traffic/pedestrian laws) followed by dedicated resources towards rethinking our streets to incorporate said mode of transport. Many seem to be doing just that:

What, then, is our role to play in this disruption? The potential for more visitors and guests to traverse our destinations is a good thing, but how do we do it in a sensible way that is respectful to our local community? Some destinations have already started to pave the way for what this can look like.

The potential of scooters is there, and our industry is primed to help guide and take advantage.

Travel Portland goes the extra step and lists the proper etiquette of riding a scooter in their destination. Some might seem like common sense (don’t ride under the influence?!) but others help guide a potential guest on what is acceptable or not (stay off sidewalk, park on the curb, etc.)

The potential of scooters is there, and our industry is primed to help guide and take advantage - enabling not only guests to our destination to get around, but also providing last mile solutions to our residents as well.

We’re will be doing a deeper dive on this topic and want to hear from you! We would love to know or hear about innovative ways your destination has used scooters as part of your tourism story. Please reach out to us at [email protected].

About the Author

Andreas WeissenbornVice President of Research and AdvocacyDestinations International

About the Author

Introduced to the industry by a random internship application to Visit Baltimore, Andreas began an unexpected career that left him with a continued passion towards tourism. He leads the research and advocacy efforts of the entire organization with an eye towards developing data-driven tools to help destinations around the world tell their story.

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