The Bird is the Word, With Reservations
Despite initial hostility towards the “flock” of LimeBike and Bird scooters that migrated to Cambridge this summer, Cambridge has now opened itself to a possible pilot program for the two companies. Given the financial and operational advantages that dockless electric scooters offer, we hope the City of Cambridge will commit to such a pilot program and do its best to work with these companies over the process to create modifications and restrictions that are both reasonable and effective.
As Birds and Limes have spread across the country, they have gained remarkable popularity and administrative scorn. The reasons for popularity are simple. The scooters are incredibly fun and easier to use than bikes, with speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. In comparison to pricey Uber rides down a congested road, infrequent bus services, and limited subway routes, these scooters are far more attractive and efficient. And once the user reaches their destination, there’s no hassle of carrying one’s own scooter up the stairs or finding a rack to dock a rental in. Birds and Limes can simply be left where they are for the next user.
Most importantly, these electric scooters are cheap. Some companies charge just one dollar to unlock the scooter, and then 15 cents for each minute of use. Bird has even begun waiving the dollar charge for those who are “‘currently enrolled in or eligible for’ state or federal assistance programs like SNAP or Medicaid.” The low cost of these services and the need for more efficient modes of transportation in poorer communities (where public transportation is often inadequate) makes these dockless scooters an important alternative.
These positives being said, electric scooters are not perfect vehicles. So far, there have thankfully been no fatalities, but doctors in various cities have reported injuries resulting from the use of these electric scooters and are pressing for the collection of public health data. While some injuries are to be expected for any form of transportation, it is still important that companies and cities work together to help riders obey traffic rules that will keep everyone safe.
Massachusetts’s current stipulation that powered scooters need brake lights and turn signals, for example, may be overkill for a machine that only goes 15 miles an hour. Whereas a requirement for riders to wear helmets (whose benefits at such speeds are also still being debated) is more reasonable and could be easily implemented. In response to such concerns in California, for example, one company proposed including a helmet with each scooter while another offered to require riders to post a selfie of themselves with a helmet before the scooter could be unlocked. Unfortunately, many riders disregard safety rules that are already in place. While this is the fault of individuals rather than companies, it’s a problem that should be resolved.
In addition to user safety, an important issue that dockless scooter companies can and should address is the possibility of clutter, especially in areas like Harvard Square, where roads and old and narrow. Cluttered scooters are not only an obstacle for pedestrians and other travelers, but are an active impediment to the mobility of people with disabilities. By working with Lime and Bird to implement “no-ride zones,” Cambridge can easily avoid such difficulties. These companies not only have the technology to be sensitive to clutter, but they have demonstrated swiftness and willingness to do so.
Although dockless electric scooters aren’t perfect and will certainly require some getting used to by the City’s administration and inhabitants, their ease, efficiency, and relatively low costs make them an important transportation alternative that needs to be explored and perfected. As the actions of Bird, Lime, and other companies show, these startups have both the technological ability and willingness to address issues of safety and clutter. Should Cambridge agree, they will most likely do the same.
This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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