Staff Columnist

Much-maligned scooters coming to Eastern Iowa

Hey, at least they're not cars

The latest addition to a bike share program begun this summer in Cedar Rapids, electric scooters like these can be rented by the public starting Friday, Sept. 30, 2019.(B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)
The latest addition to a bike share program begun this summer in Cedar Rapids, electric scooters like these can be rented by the public starting Friday, Sept. 30, 2019.(B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)

The trendy mode of transportation people love to hate is coming to Eastern Iowa.

Cedar Rapids recently added electric scooters to its fleet of electric-assist bicycle rentals, possibly the first city in Iowa with a scooter-share program. This week, Iowa City authorized a vendor to start a similar bike program, with the possibility of expanding to scooters in the future.

Micro-mobility vehicles — especially scooters, which resemble the kick-powered Razor scooters that were hugely popular in the early 2000s — suddenly became widely available in major cities in the past three years. They fill an important gap in transit service, allowing users to travel short distances without CO2-emitting cars or major infrastructure developments.

However, just as soon as electric scooters became available, they were fiercely condemned by critics as nuisances and safety hazards.

The vehicles are so hated in some cities that the anti-scooter movement has taken up physical resistance in the form of breaking scooters or ditching them in bodies of water. In California, “vandals are destroying or desecrating the vehicles in disturbingly imaginative ways,” the Los Angeles Times reported last year.

The most common complaint I have seen is that riders discard their scooters in inappropriate places. The scooter systems often are dockless, meaning there are no central locations to start or end rides.

Blocking the public right of way is a legitimate concern, but it’s not unique to scooters. Perhaps you have noticed cars litter our public spaces as well. We build entire cities to accommodate large automobiles and heavily subsidize free parking, often imposing great inconvenience and indirect costs on pedestrians and other nondrivers.

Another objection is the purported threat to public safety. We frequently hear stories from early-adopting cities about reckless riders traveling too fast on sidewalks and endangering standers-by.

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Here again, remember the cars. Automobiles are an extremely dangerous mode of transportation, killing and injuring millions of Americans each year, including thousands of pedestrians.

Despite the staggering body count, there is no mass movement to ban cars. Instead, we recognize their enormous utility and take steps to make car travel safer. Smaller, cleaner vehicles deserve the same thoughtful consideration.

Americans took an estimated 84 million trips on shared micro-mobility devices in 2018, according to a study by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. That’s more than twice the number from the previous year.

Most often, the study found, people use the scooters and bikes to get to work or connect to existing transit lines. These are not primarily used for drunken joy rides.

Last year, the Iowa Legislature considered a bill to regulate electric scooters on a statewide basis, before any scooters actually were available. While the proposed rules seemed reasonable, there is no compelling reason for that responsibility to rest with the state government, rather than with cities.

Whatever problems scooters pose can be managed by local governments that have a legitimate interest and expertise in regulating public spaces.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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