Gear Prudence: I bet you $100 that those new electric scooters won’t be on D.C. streets in one year. Deal? Bikesharing has proven its longevity, but scooters have all the makings of a fad. Plus, so many people I know, especially bicyclists, really seem to hate them. No way they last. —Some Cash On Outlasting Trend
Dear SCOOT: GP accepts this wager and looks forward to collecting in one year’s time a crisp Franklin or its equivalent in Grants, Jacksons, Hamiltons, or Javankas (should 2018 take a strange turn). Prognosticating is perilous, but you don’t need Delphic powers to believe that electric scooter sharing will kick around for a while, even if it seems faddish right now.
Three companies currently offer electric scooter sharing as part of the dockless vehicle pilot program overseen by the District Department of Transportation. Riders rent scooters by app, pay by the minute, and can leave them in the same general locations where people leave dockless bikes. They’re ubiquitous in denser, flatter parts of the city, but available throughout the District. By the looks of it, scooters seem to appeal to both tourists and locals.
I see a few different ways you can win the bet, but they don’t seem very likely.
1. The scooter companies could go Juicero and cash dries up once its revealed that the underlying product is ridiculous. This might happen eventually; fickle venture capitalists might invest their Javankas elsewhere. But all of the companies going belly up in a mere 12 months probably won’t happen. Unprofitable transportation ventures have survived a whole lot longer.
2. Backlash, led by angry bicyclists, could lead the government to ban electric scooter sharing. It’s possible, but if some D.C. bicyclists hating another mode of travel was enough to get it banned, would the streets have a single BMW on them? Or taxicab? Or segway? Or horse? (At least scooters don’t leave droppings in the bike lanes.) Seems like a stretch.
3. People, of their own accord, simply decide to stop riding them. All fads reach that critical moment when something that seemed vital and worthy is exposed to be superfluous and lame. Could scooters be the transportation equivalent of Beanie Babies, Tamagotchis, or Pogs? Nope. Love them or hate them, electric scooter sharing seems to fill an actual transportation niche and one that isn’t going away. They’re for the trips where walking would take a little too long (or it’s a little too far or it’s a little too hot) and for people who aren’t drawn to biking at that moment (or ever). These kinds of trips for these kinds of users aren’t going away and so long as the scooter remains an option, it will have an audience. —GP
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