by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
Rentable electric scooters from Bird and Lime have become ubiquitous in downtown Raleigh. The word comes from the Latin ubique, which means … everywhere. They’re everywhere.
They lend the city youthful, hipster vibe, a happy blend of carefree and techno savvy plus a bit of environmentally correct speedster. The look can be James Dean with a side of green, if not overpowered by mawkish dweeb with a smidge of smug.
Incidentally, that was the market Lime had to itself — briefly — with its bike service, until Bird showed up with the scooters. Lime entered that market shortly thereafter. Presumably we’re just one technological change away from “Wall-E”–esque transport loungers.
Part of the scooters being everywhere includes being everywhere, including especially on the sidewalks. But to rent the scooters through their smartphone apps, riders have to assure the scooter providers that they will abide by certain guidelines, including staying off sidewalks.
It’s obvious why. The things are quick. Riders might not be able to react quick enough or stop fast enough to avoid hitting pedestrians, cars entering parking lots, or even street signs and parking meters. Also, they’re too fast for pedestrians to avoid, and drivers exiting parking lots might not be able to see them.
Riders obviously disregard other guidelines, such as wearing helmets, having licenses, even being of the proper age. They also ignore traffic rules, running red lights and going the wrong direction on one-way streets.
Raleigh leaders are mulling what to do about it, with collisions and injuries on the rise. As Carolina Journal’s John Trump points out, the riders aren’t exactly making the case for a light regulatory touch:
It’s wonderful that people now have alternate ways of getting around, but personal responsibility is key here. Just the other day I saw a pair of scooters run a red light at the busy intersection of Morgan and McDowell streets.
The city will make rules, but enforcing them is another story. It’s our hope, though, that government uses some common sense and refrains from outright bans, which will disrupt the market.
The burden here is on the riders. They’ll ultimately decide whether these things stay or go.
As a free-market economist, I love the scooters and think they’re a brilliant use of otherwise underutilized capital. I’d hate to see this smart business model quashed by the government because of bad and dishonest (users lying to the companies providing them the service) consumption.