Shared electric scooters are the vanguard of new micromobility fleets that are being deployed in cities across the United States. There are good reasons for this. Along with dockless bicycles, electric scooters get people between transit stops and their actual destination—the proverbial “last mile”—and provide new options for short- and medium-distance trips underserved by buses, subways, and light rail. Plus, in a transportation landscape transformed by the coronavirus, electric scooters offer solo, open-air, socially distanced mobility.
But there are also concerns about these vehicles. With their small wheelbases and upright riding positions, electric scooters present safety risks—especially for inexperienced riders and pedestrians around them. Even without a rider, electric scooters can clog sidewalks, which creates hazards for people with disabilities. There are social equity challenges, too, since shared electric scooter fleets are typically accessed via smartphone apps. People making less than $30,000 per year are still 10% less likely to own a smartphone than the general U.S. population, and just over half of those older than 65 own such a device.
Taken together, these challenges point to an overarching truth: The shared electric scooters we have now are not the vehicles that cities would have designed to serve commuters. In fact, the ideal shared electric scooter would work and look quite differently. Here’s how.