Seven miles on a scooter

I’d been wanting to try one of the electric scooters for a while now, so last week, after catching the slowest Lyft to a dental appointment at USC’s main campus, I fired up an app and rode my way home to Los Feliz.bird scooter parked

I rode seven miles in 40 minutes, for about $8, through Koreatown and East Hollywood, and for the most part it was fun and easy.

Because Lime wants a $10 buy-in before you can ride, I went with Bird, which lets you pay as you go. It took a little bit of work to find a scooter — the first one that the map showed me was mysteriously absent, so I ended up walking about a mile to find one that was charged. I found it at the USC Expo Line stop, which does support the “last mile” theory, where scooters help bridge gaps between other modes of transportation.

Once I scanned the QR code, it was easy to get the scooter going, and I started out riding on Vermont in the street. The scooters are significantly slower than biking, topping out at about 10 m.p.h. on a flat stretch, which should allay fears about it being dangerous on sidewalks — for the most part, it’s safer than riding a bike on the sidewalk.

It’s OK for riding in the street, assuming a flat grade and good pavement, but the hill leading up to Pico had me going about 8 m.p.h. over the rough edges, and cars were zipping by dangerously fast, with a couple honking and yelling at me to get out of the road. I’m a regular cyclist, so I’m used to jerks in cars, but someone new to riding could find it overwhelming.

After Pico, I stayed off the main arteries, enjoying streets like Menlo, Westmoreland, jogging over to Virgil, then Hoover, then back to Virgil, which basically took me home.

street altar of Madonna and Pope John Paul II
Light wasn’t great, but I liked this bit of religion on San Marino

Bird route: Vermont, Pico, Westmoreland, Virgil, HooverAlong the way, I was surprised that riding the scooter was much more active than I had assumed, more like riding a skateboard — it took real effort to carve nimbly between chunks of broken pavement on sidewalks or on the edges of streets. This is especially true because when you cut the throttle, the power-assisted steering drops off, making the scooters feel like bricks with sticks rather than free-rolling vehicles. This was especially true the couple times I stopped to take pictures:  maneuvering the stopped scooter out of the shot was mostly lug-and-check.

It also highlighted just how bad much of LA’s right-of-way is, either in disrepair or covered with trash — scooter companies have a real incentive to partner with municipal agencies to fix roads and add protected lanes if they want broad adoption of scooters as a legit transit option.

And it also reminded me how much everyone has a stake in LA’s housing crisis: Virgil just north of Beverly was impossible because it was a steep hill with bad pavement, but the sidewalks were either too covered with trash or people to ride on.

The other thing that scooters need if they’re going to be a viable part of the transportation infrastructure? Baskets or mount points for bags. I could see grabbing a scooter to help me get groceries from Trader Joe’s, but carrying a bag  that wasn’t a backpack would have been impossible.

The ride also gave me concerns about range — I started at 76% battery and left the scooter with 7% at the end, which (assuming a relatively linear relationship) means about a 10 mile radius total, which is just 10 trips a day at a mile each. That’s not a lot if we’re going to really incorporate them into the everyday transit options.

When I finally stepped off, I left it propped up against some parking signs on a dirt patch near a well-used corner, and it was gone when I walked to the store an hour later, probably grabbed by a roving recharger. I understand complaints about people leaving scooters helter skelter — the first time I saw one in real life, it was wedged about four feet off the ground in the neighbor’s hedges — but infrastructure that supports both charging scooters and locking bikes could be easily incorporated into future transit plans.

More than anything, the ride was fun. It was way more fun than the Lyft, and took only about 10 more minutes while costing about $10 less. While it was more physical than I anticipated, it’s much less effort than biking, and should be helpful for people who can’t bike for whatever reasons. Aside from legit complaints about louts walking away from their scooters and leaving them in public areas, having e-scooters aligns with interests of pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers — getting more drivers off the road is good for the ones that are left, and better roads are better for drivers too; more pedestrian and bike infrastructure benefits scooter riders and companies — protected lanes would be perfect for scooters and bikes; transportation in the future is more likely to be a patchwork than one-size-fits-all.

Ride one yourself and see if you don’t look at LA a little differently.

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