E-Scooter Sharing: “Flawed” Innovation?

Article By : David Benjamin

E-Scooters? We're not customers; we're testers helping to identify bugs, design errors, and conceptual flaws.

The average person walks at 3.1 miles per hour. This is an aerobic pace that mildly, effectively, tones the muscles and promotes cardiovascular health.

Your typical e-scooter — rented from a cluster of companies, including Lime, Bird, Grin, Yellow, Skip, Spin, Scoot, PopScoot, Tier Mobility, Wind Mobility, VoiTechnology, Vogo, Dott, Flash and now, of course, Uber and Lyft — is supposed to navigate the “urban landscape” at a speed no greater than 10 miles per hour, or roughly three times the speed of a target pedestrian. But these anorexic hogs can hit 20 mph easy.

Your e-scooter is electric. Save for rubber tires, it has no moving parts. It comes up behind as silent as the grave. If a walker, moving at a brisk 4 mph, swings a carefree arm – carrying, say, a bag filled with eggs, milk, tomatoes and champagne – there lurks today the danger of contact with a 20-mph e-scooter driven by a helmetless neophyte with the heart and soul of Dale Earnhardt at Talladega. This encounter renders our pedestrian sudden witness to a hail of flying eggs, splayed milk, swirling champagne and tomatoes hitting the faces of a dozen passing strangers. And, possibly, a dislocated shoulder.

As the last egg goes splat, the e-scooter is blocks away, its cowboy oblivious to his carnage and wise to keep moving — because the rental company bears no liability for havoc wrought by its mock-Hell’s Angels.

Yes, one of these devices squarely hitting a carbon-based life form who moves abruptly into its path – humans have an unfortunate tendency to move abruptly on sidewalks, believing that this is where people belong and can’t do one another much harm at 3.1 mph – could kill someone.

Done, as soon as proposed. In Barcelona last August, a 92-year-old woman was flattened by a guy on an e-scooter, while he was texting on his phone. This marked a) the first e-scooter fatality in history and b) the inaugural texting-while-scooting death. We can expect many more.

You’d think that a “micromobility” device that can go 20 should be on the street rather than the sidewalks. Not so fast. This spring in Paris, a trucker (who’d been drinking just a little) apparently mistook a bright green e-scooter for a large leaf in the road and crushed it — along with its driver — like, well, a leaf in the road. Fatality number two. We can expect many more.

E-scooters(Source: EE Times)

We’ve had e-scooters since 2017 they showed up suddenly, thanks to Bird, in Santa Monica. They caused instant chaos. So far, they aren’t everywhere. A London law passed in 1835 bans them there. New York and Chicago forbid them. My first e-scooter near-miss here two weeks clipped my arm and left a bruise. Since then, “Get off the sidewalk!” has become my personal battle cry. I’m shopping for swords.

The e-scooter is spawn of the devil-may-care ethos of the “sharing economy,” which encourages you to use cars, houses, bicycles, tools and heavy machinery without any responsibility for their proper handling, upkeep, safety or what kind of carnage you leave in your wake.

Had my e-scooter assailant hit me hard enough to kill me, but crashed his vehicle and couldn’t pull off a clean escape, he would have learned one drawback of the sharing economy. The rental agreement he did not read (some exceed 18,000 words) absolves the provider of all responsibility for the trouble the user gets into with this fearsomely unsafe piece of shoddy technology (the average lifespan of an e-scooter is 90 days).

How unsafe? Well, there’s this, from CityLab’s Jess Halpon: “A CDC study of dockless e-scooter accidents found that riders suffered an injury for every 5,000 miles ridden — 100 times the rate for cars or bikes. Nearly half… were head injuries.”

Note: this study covered only scooter jockeys, not the people they clip.

High-tech experts and market analysts insist that these untoward wrinkles will eventually smooth out. You see the problem?

The blithe and unregulated introduction onto city sidewalks of a grownup toy — predicted by four suits at BCG to have $50 billion in sales in the next six years — is classic technology marketing since the advent of the personal computer.

I can’t say exactly which PC came first and when it landed. I don’t care. The crux is that the first PC was riddled with bugs. In honor of that precedent, every new computer, every new phone, vehicle, barcode reader, video game, every new technology enters the market riddled with bugs, put up for sale by people who don’t know what the bugs might be, where they might be concealed (in hardware, in software, in Steve Jobs’ coffin) or how to fix them once they pop up.

That’s up to us.

Since that first sloppily designed Commodore (or whatever), buyers of new tech have ceased to be customers, consumers or clients. We’ve been transformed, by the companies that take our money and raise our utopian hopes, into guinea pigs, rhesus monkeys and white rats.

They (Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Tesla, Bird/Lime/Yellow Grin, etc.) depend on us (people and our governments) to suss the bugs, bellyache and beg for a fix, unless the bug has already killed us. The frequent outcome of this wildly successful experiment in consumer gullibility is that a new version of the faulty technology supplants its forebear in as little as a year, making it obsolete and requiring the pathetic consumer, (okay, sucker) to buy an entirely new version — still in its perpetual Beta incarnation – for, usually twice as much.

The allure of the sharing economy is that it allows human test volunteers to use these dangerously flawed “innovations” without buying them. We get to be suckers at little cost to ourselves, until we maim someone else. Soon, there will be e-scooter cowboys — but not Bird, Lime or Uber — “sharing” a cell with an ax murderer.

Ironically, there is still, for a while anyway, a free PMD (personal mobility device) that nicely solves what the four guys at BCG call the “last-mile crisis.”


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