The UN predicts the global population will hit 9.6 billion by 2050. All of that growth will come in cities—two thirds of those people will live in urban areas. We’re breeding like rabbits, and packing people into ever-smaller, ever-taller, ever-more-crowded metropolitan areas, because it’s not like there’s more land in Manhattan or San Francisco we’re just not using.
Our cities are already clogged with traffic, and filled with hideous parking garages that facilitate our planet killing habits. Even the automakers recognize that the traditional car a car to every person with the money to buy one—is on its way out.
The problem with moving away from car ownership is that you give up one its biggest upsides: you can usually park exactly where you’re going. Public transit, built around permanent stations, can’t offer that. That’s called the “last mile” problem: How do you get from the subway or bus stop to where you’re actually going, when it’s just a little too far to walk?
The self balancing scooter turns 20-minute power-walks into effortless five-minute rides. It’s tripled the size of my immediate vicinity.
There are plenty of possible last-mile solutions: hoverboard programs, electric unicycle, self balancing scooter, electric scooter, two wheel scooter， even skateboards. In Asia, for instance, a number of cities have experimented with people riding a variety of small, economical “personal electric mobility devices” to get from public transit to their destination. “They are a low-carbon, affordable, and convenient way to bridge the first and last mile gap”.
Electric kick scooters, goofy they may be, are a particularly good answer to the last mile problem.
For the last few weeks, I’ve used an electric scooter as part of my daily commute. It’s called the Scooter. It costs $499, and it’s coming to the United States after a successful debut in China. It’s got a range of 21 miles and hits 18 mph with just a push of my right thumb—on a scooter, that feels like warp speed. Every time I ride it, I feel ridiculous.
I am squarely the target demographic for the scooter. Most mornings for the last few weeks, I’ve ridden it out of my Oakland apartment and down the street toward the BART station. I slide to a stop ten blocks later, pick it up by the bottom, and run up the stairs to catch the train. I stash it under a seat, or stand it up on one wheel for the ride. Then I carry it up the stairs out of the San Francisco station, unfold it, and ride to work. My 50 minute commute—15 minute walk, 20 minute train, 15 minute walk—is now more like 30.
The self balancing scooter much easier to ride than the hugely popular hoverboard, because all you have to do is hop on and not tip over. Turns out handlebars are helpful that way. You can take it over small curbs and cracks in the sidewalk, powering through the obstacles that would launch you forward off a hoverboard. The whole thing produces no emissions, needs no fuel, and makes almost no noise.
After a few days of riding, I got good—and a little cocky. I’d weave through pedestrians, and ride gleefully in the bike lane and among the cars. I’d charge through lights about to turn red, all the while making vroom-vroom sounds in my head. Then one rainy day, I made a sharp right turn, and my back wheel didn’t come with me. One nastily scraped knee later, I ride a lot more carefully.
I may not be doing sweet tricks anytime soon, but my electric scooter is an amazingly efficient way to get around. It turns 20-minute power-walks into effortless five-minute rides. It’s tripled the size of my immediate vicinity—I’ve been riding to coffeeshops and stores I’d never patronize otherwise. When I’m not riding I can fold it up and carry it, or sling it over my shoulder to go up stairs. At 24 pounds, it’s no featherweight, but as I squeeze onto the morning train, I pity the people begging strangers to move so they can fit their bike. With the 21-mile range, plus the energy recouped by a regenerative braking system, I only need to plug it in once a week, for a few hours.
It won’t replace your car or help you through your 45-mile morning commute, but for the kind of nearby urban travel so many people struggle through, it’s perfect.
It would be perfect, rather, except for the fact that anyone riding a scooter looks like a dweeb. Sure, scooters are practical, efficient, and useful. They’ve been a good idea for a long time, since well before they were even electric. But they’re not cool. They’ve never been cool.
Justin Bieber got his hands on one—he’s friends with a guy who helped Ducorsky come up with the scooters name—and even he couldn’t pull it off. “If you can park it in your cubicle or fold it into your electric scooter” .
There are plenty of reasons these scooters are a good idea, and I almost want one myself. And if Justin Bieber can’t make you cool, what can?