Pressured by first-term member Heather Hamilton, during 2019 the Select Board of Brookline, MA pursued a lose-lose-lose proposition with rental electric scooters. Renting the lightly built vehicles in an impulse-driven market has proven unsustainable as a business, harmful to the environment and acutely hazardous for both customers and bystanders. (Shown left to right: Administrator Kleckner, Board members Heller, Greene, Hamilton, Fernandez, Franco)
It’s hardly surprising to see business for rental electric scooters entering free-fall. Last year Verge reported industry experience that “scooters don’t bring in enough money to cover their cost.” Surveys found typical lifetimes of U.S. rental scooters only several months. Operating costs remain high. Every night staff collect scooters, charge them and return them near streets. Considering the trucks and vans used and the short operating lives, total air pollution per mile of rental electric scooter use ranks higher than many automobiles.
Peaking during 2018, venture capital staked near $2 billion on U.S. rental scooters. Business plans never passed “smell tests.” Finances for rental scooters skirt the extremes of the U.S. “ride share” business, including Uber and Lyft, with no firm in the entire sector reporting a profit. Local operations for Lime and Bird have had large layoffs and have abandoned host communities. Some firms still in business are nearing collapse as their cash burns through.
Unlike automobiles, electric scooters are not very costly or hard to keep. Most riders who find them useful can afford a few hundred dollars to buy one and can find places to keep it. Rental firms often can expect only a few rides before a customer either quits riding or buys a scooter. Rental scooters survive mainly as novelties, appealing to young visitors–unfamiliar with vehicles and locales–who incur most of the rising deaths and injuries.
Death rates and injury rates per passenger-mile for rental electric scooters are hundreds of times those for public transit. The rising incident counts appear small only because U.S. passenger-miles per year are vastly lower for rental electric scooters than for public transit and for private automobiles. Some injuries are very severe and can be permanently disabling. Alcohol, drugs or both have been found to factor in many e-scooter crashes, while helmet use is rare among crash victims.
The bottom fell out last year. Venture firms stopped funding rental scooters or stiffened their terms. There are no more Lime or Bird bonanzas like those of 2018. Some rental firms have tried to evade liability with rental agreements stating that “the riders relieve the company of liability.” Several host communities, facing complaints from elderly and disabled people put at risk, boosted insurance requirements and limited scooter operations. Lime just pulled out of Atlanta, once a major market–following Jump, Lyft and Gotcha–unwilling to observe city rules and post bonded insurance to benefit injured riders and bystanders.
Here in Brookline, MA, so far our Select Board largely neglects risks and costs. Contracts last year with rental firms indemnified the town but failed to protect riders and bystanders against rising risks and costs. When Brookline, like Atlanta, bans riding motorized scooters on sidewalks by law–so police can enforce the ban–and requires rental firms to post bonded insurance to benefit injured riders and bystanders, the board will start moving from neglect toward responsibility.
– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 24, 2020
Niall McCarthy, U.S. experiences surge in e-scooter accidents, Statista, January 16, 2020
Megan Rose Dickey, Electric scooter wars of 2019, Tech Crunch (Verizon Media), January 11, 2020
Sean Keenan, Major player Lime leaving Atlanta, Curbed Atlanta, January 10, 2020
Kia Kokalitcheva, E-scooter startup Lime shuts in 12 markets, lays off around 100, Axios, January 9, 2020
Sophia Kunthara and Natasha Mascarenhas, As Lime leaves 12 markets, a note on scooters, Crunchbase News (San Francisco, CA), January 9, 2020
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Electric scooter and bike sharing companies, Crunchbase News (San Francisco, CA), January, 2020
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Madison Hogan, Lyft pulls the plug in Atlanta, American Innovation, November 15, 2019
George Abunaw, As pilot program nears end, Brookline residents divided over shared electric scooters, Boston University News, October 26, 2019
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Select Board contact information, Town of Brookline, MA, June, 2019
Andrew Hawkins, Electric scooters may not be around for long, The Verge, April 12, 2019
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Sean Keenan, Atlanta City Council OKs restrictions on dockless, shareable e-scooters and bikes, Curbed Atlanta, January 8, 2019
City of Atlanta’s scooter ordinance, Pedestrians Educating Driver Safety (PEDS, Atlanta, GA) January, 2019
Ranking all e-scooter startups by venture capital received, Travel and Mobility, December 8, 2018
Insurance requirements, dockless on-demand personal mobility permit, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, October 1, 2018 (See Section E, page 8 of 30)
Will Kubzansky, Secret life of teen scooter outlaws, The Verge, September 23, 2018
Todd Gill, Fayetteville passes scooter insurance requirement, Fayetteville (AR) Flyer, April 9, 2015