Why can't I profit from all these Limes?
October 23, 2019 2:14 PM   Subscribe

"New reporting underlines how the scooter boom has proven popular with consumers and investors alike, but remains far from having a sustainable business model." The scooter boom is hot with fundraising, and people who believe that they're the future of urban transit, but a reports in The Information (Paywalled) shows that Lime is losing $300 million on revenues of $420 million. Why? Part of the problem is that their scooters don't last long enough to make a profit. How long do they last? About 28 days, at least in Louisville.
posted by SansPoint (86 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
So here’s an anecdote. I think in the last scooter thread I commented how in front of my local pub there were three or four of these scooters perpetually at the bike rack? Well for the last few months they’ve been gone. I’m don’t know about downtown, I haven’t been there in a while but in the south of the city the previously ubiquitous scooters have disappeared.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:23 PM on October 23, 2019


As a bike advocate scooters are total frenemies. I only want them to succeed because they aren't cars. They get trashed most moving into a new market, but supposedly the rate people steal and vandalize them slows down a little. People riding double on the other hand...
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:35 PM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


To address some common criticism that pops up in these types of conversations: around DC (actually, especially in Arlington), I've noticed a recent increasing in designated scooter parking zones like these and/or scooter parking racks like these (second picture.) And people do actually use them! Turns out a lot of undesirable behavior can be curbed by appropriate infrastructure, who knew.
posted by mosst at 2:39 PM on October 23, 2019 [44 favorites]


The premise of that last link, that scooters in Louisville last 28 days, seems really suspect.

"Asked about the Louisville data, a Bird spokeswoman disputed the notion that the typical scooter last only 28 days. “We have a dynamic fleet, move vehicles around, etc.,” she said. “Just because it looks like it was in Louisville for 28 days does not mean that was its entire lifespan.” Asked where scooters taken out of circulation in Louisville would be moved to—or what other cities Bird operates in near Louisville—she didn’t respond. I will assume they simply fly away."

It's hard to imagine that Bird and Lyme collect scooters after 28 days and...throw them in a landfill? I mean, fine, she was evasive, but that does not prove the lifespan of a scooter is 1 month.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:50 PM on October 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


I live in a pretty overall poor/working class city, with 3 universities. They are very, very popular here. Our public transit sucks, like, really bad. I've been using it for years (I'm poor and car-less). I'm extremely hesitant to criticize them because the people I see using them the most are young black kids. Our city is old and not bike friendly so they're especially not scooter friendly, but also it's a cheap alternative to Lyft and Uber, which really loves charging surges in the downtown area that I take classes in. So, they seem to be making the cool/hip downtown area more accessible to poor kids who otherwise wouldn't want to walk the 2.5 miles there/2.5 miles back (small city) just to hang out downtown on a friday. I also would not make the trek to downtown/waterside, but I take classes at the community college campus there.

I live in a diverse student/working class neighborhood, and a lot of students are using them to get back and forth from the sprawling campus. This is great, too, because the area has really bad parking issues. Now commuter kids are ok with parking in the distant lots because they can spend $2.25 to just ride the scooter to class when they're running late, instead of flooding the neighborhoods with their cars.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:54 PM on October 23, 2019 [35 favorites]


I guess after these companies go bankrupt the world will be filled with cheap scooters, sold to pay off creditors? I guess this is how money is being redistributed from the rich back to the poor?
posted by clawsoon at 2:55 PM on October 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


It's hard to imagine that Bird and Lyme collect scooters after 28 days and...throw them in a landfill?

From a local article last year:

"One interesting fact from the company's permit application: Skip claims its competitors are "hypocritical" because they dump scooters in landfills rather than repairing them. The company also talks about paying homeless people and giving them a hot meal in exchange for riding low-battery scooters to charging centers."

this also does not prove the life span question, but it certainly does paint a poor picture of industry practice
posted by Dr. Twist at 2:59 PM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


In my area there are Bird scooters tossed all over downtown. Dozens of them. Few are used
posted by robbyrobs at 3:12 PM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


They fished a bunch of these scooters out of the river this summer.

I like that people are using them, I was initially very skeptical that anyone would use them. Mostly I hate how a company (or like 10 companies, in Portland's case) can just come in and block part of the sidewalk and force everyone to deal with it. And our sidewalks are fairly big with a lot of room, I totally get why my friends in other cities loathe them.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:19 PM on October 23, 2019 [12 favorites]


It's hard to imagine that Bird and Lyme collect scooters after 28 days and...throw them in a landfill?

I absolutely believe it. Between the low unit cost for the scooters and the race to the bottom, undercut all the competition mentality that these companies are using to gain market supremacy, the math works in their favor to simply trash them. When Bird was trying to enter the Boston market, they did it the way Uber did - ignore all the regulations and try to carve out a position that would force the city to negotiate with them rather than force them out of town. The city (and the other neighboring towns who were not happy about this encroachment) started impounding scooters left on the sidewalks. Bird simply bought more and dumped them on the streets.

At $500 a pop, made out of a lot of non-repairable plastic and solid state electronics, it is far cheaper to throw out broken ones than hire folks who are competent at repairing that kind of technology. Compare to the city-owned docked bike shares - bikes cost around $3,000 and are simple, easily repairable machines. Bike mechanics are plentiful. The only difficult parts of those bikes are the generator and integral geared hubs, but even those are pretty straightforward to disassemble and refurbish.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:21 PM on October 23, 2019 [20 favorites]


These scooters have benefits but are clearly not sustainable without questionable market practices - disrupting local laws, monopoly power, severe environmental externalities. So if we're gonna have them, they should be nationalized. Invest in rugged models with modular design to minimize waste, set reasonable and standard rates and make up operational losses with a gasoline tax, and subsidized (or free) operation for low-income citizens.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 3:24 PM on October 23, 2019 [14 favorites]


+1 for stupid title. Fifty years from now, the nursing homes will be filled with elderly people referencing ancient, obscure memes that everyone assumes are just nonsensical manifestations of dementia.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:25 PM on October 23, 2019 [32 favorites]


In somewhat related news, Chicago has ended its scooter pilot program, with no specific plans for a reboot:
Detractors have complained about sidewalk and bike lane clutter and safety risks.

“Community leaders say there are no safe places to ride in their neighborhoods, and more investment in walking and biking infrastructure is needed,” the Active Transportation Alliance, an early supporter of the pilot, said in a recent survey report. “Residents observed lots of children riding by themselves or with parents on a single scooter. Few riders wore helmets and many rode on sidewalks. Sidewalk riding caused problems in congested areas but was less of an issue in less populated parts of the pilot zone.”

Active Trans recommended the scooters stay out of downtown, that they be parked in docks, painted corrals, or locked to public racks and posts, and that the city maintain a “reasonable cap” on the number of scooters if the program is allowed to proliferate.
posted by Not A Thing at 3:33 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I’ve seen piles of rental ebikes headed for the landfill, fwiw. Sometimes the best business move is to throw shit out, it’s one of the perks of capitalism that companies can often ignore externalities and successfully make their own questionable behaviors into someone else’s problem.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:36 PM on October 23, 2019 [21 favorites]


I think this speaks to a huge flaw in the "disrupt!" model.

Scooters are obviously great for micromobility; cities would do well to design around them! But when you have private companies dumping them onto public space (don't get me started on car parking too but that's a digression), they frustrate just about everybody - oh and apparently lose reams of money, too.

You'd think that there'd be room for a lot of gains by selling these instead of these unprofitable leases, working with cities to design safety into the streetscape, and establishing standards.

But nooooooo, the free market is sooooooo efficient
posted by entropone at 3:39 PM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


ancient, obscure memes

OK, I'll bite. What is the title a reference to? Google isn't coming up with much.
posted by Not A Thing at 3:51 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I couldn't get it to load before, but here is a very interesting Block Club Chicago article about the Chicago pilot and how (anecdotally) it helped to address some aspects of transportation inequity in the pilot area:
Jasmine Roberts, a Lime staffer who works the overnight retrieval shift, said she agrees with Williams’ belief that the scooters are filling a massive gap in Chicago’s public transportation infrastructure.

A man recently pleaded with her to leave a scooter in his front yard; it was his ride to work in the morning, he told her.
posted by Not A Thing at 3:54 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Someone threw a scooter on my roof. I'm not sure if there's a profit in that yet.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:01 PM on October 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


OK, I'll bite. What is the title a reference to? Google isn't coming up with much.

Limes guy / "Why can't I hold all these limes?" a.k.a this stock art.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 4:08 PM on October 23, 2019 [22 favorites]


so it strikes me that the most ecologically sound way to have an electric scooter of one's own — and look, electric scooters are super super fun, i kind of want one and you should too — anyway, it strikes me that the most ecologically sound way to have an electric scooter is not to buy one, but instead to jailbreak and expropriate a rideshare scooter. if you buy a scooter, you're responsible for the manufacture of one more scooter. if you covert-requisition a rideshare scooter, you're saving an already-manufactured scooter from the landfill.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:14 PM on October 23, 2019 [30 favorites]


Is it just me or does it feel like we're heading toward another tech crash? How long can investors keep pumping money into companies like this before the bottom falls out? None of these "Uber for ____", including Uber itself, have made a dime of profit. Won't the money people pull the plug eventually?
posted by octothorpe at 4:28 PM on October 23, 2019 [18 favorites]


if you covert-requisition a rideshare scooter, you're saving an already-manufactured scooter from the landfill.

...and possibly* committing felony grand theft, which in California could see you get a sentence of 16 to 36 months in prison.

*Grand theft is $950 or more, so depends on which model of the scooter you are stealing.
posted by sideshow at 4:34 PM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


You'd think that there'd be room for a lot of gains by selling these instead of these unprofitable leases

You think they aren't selling these?
posted by sideshow at 4:36 PM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


> Is it just me or does it feel like we're heading toward another tech crash? How long can investors keep pumping money into companies like this before the bottom falls out? None of these "Uber for ____", including Uber itself, have made a dime of profit. Won't the money people pull the plug eventually?

literally all of the money in the entire world has flooded into the bay area. the money has in fact become so concentrated in such a small area that its behavior is fundamentally different from less exotic types of money. think of it as a money neutron star that's trying to accrete enough extra money-mass to become a money black hole.

really, at this point you shouldn't even think in conventional capitalist/market terms at all when thinking about the various silicon valley projects. instead, think of silicon valley as subsuming more and more of the conventional economy into a planned economy scheme. the venture capitalists behind it are not capitalists per se, but are instead the central planners of the new command economy that is eating the market economy. whether or not any particular project in this command economy is "profitable" or whatever is irrelevant to whether or not that project continues; if the central planners want it to continue, it will continue. and if the whole thing crashes, if all of it goes down, it won't be because of the "money men" pulling the plug — this new system has slipped the surly bonds of money. instead, if it crashes it will be because it simply cannot source more raw materials to continue.

really, if this new system collapses, the collapse won't be like the market crash of 2008 or like the dotcom bust at the start of the millennium. instead, it will be more like the collapse of the eastern bloc in 1989.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:42 PM on October 23, 2019 [58 favorites]


So where would a hypothetical guy get a scooter if he wanted to do a board swap, or to save it from the landfill?

Or if Hypothetical Man sees one in the river downtown and fishes it out, is that stealing? Would it be salvageable?

Hypothetically?

(I really would love there to be a way to get one of these for little ready money, if I am willing to wrench on it a bit.)
posted by wenestvedt at 4:43 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


> ...and possibly* committing felony grand theft, which in California could see you get a sentence of 16 to 36 months in prison.

*Grand theft is $950 or more, so depends on which model of the scooter you are stealing.


look, sometimes if you want to be ecologically sound you gotta take a few small risks.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:45 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


So where would a hypothetical guy get a scooter if he wanted to do a board swap, or to save it from the landfill?

The previous thread has quite a bit of discussion of this hypothetical question, since the OP of that thread in fact involves a couple of disruptive innovators addressing this issue in their own way. Basically you'd want to check your jurisdiction's abandoned property laws, which can vary quite a bit.

(You could also try reaching out on a personal level to whoever would be handling the disposal side in your city and see if they'd let you take one off their hands.)
posted by Not A Thing at 4:53 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


In DC, scooter prices have doubled and continue to rise, That scooter ride is going to cost you a lot more (WaPo):
Scooter companies operating in the Washington region have raised their rental prices, dropping the introductory 15-cents-per-minute rides that were widely appealing in exchange for per-minute charges that range from 24 cents to 39 cents, depending on the company. That’s in addition to the $1 unlocking fee some charge. Experts predict prices may go even higher as companies face more fees from cities and increasing pressure to turn a profit.
posted by peeedro at 5:21 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the prices have been going up. When I'm in California I live in downtown San Jose. I don't have a car here and there really isn't even room for a bike in the garage, so I use the scooters a lot to get around downtown on the weekends. Last weekend my bill for a 3 mile ride with a 30 minute pause for grocery shopping was $15. That's getting to be not that much cheaper than Uber. I feel like it was half that several months ago, but I don't have the math in front of me.

So I'm thinking about buying one now; advantages are higher speed (probably 17 MPH versus the 12 MPH cap on local rental scooters), instant availability, and avoiding really beat up scooters. Downsides are having to bring it inside wherever I'm going, but of course they're still far more portable than any bicycle. I should break even versus renting in a year or less.
posted by MillMan at 5:44 PM on October 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


literally all of the money in the entire world has flooded into the bay area

The main player in the scooter business is 300+ miles way from the Bay Area, unless you meant the bay of Santa Monica.

Even then, that'd be wrong, Bird is in Venice.
posted by sideshow at 6:01 PM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


You'd think that there'd be room for a lot of gains by selling these instead of these unprofitable leases

Yeah, you kinda have to wonder if at least a couple of these companies aren't planning on pivoting to a sales model, with the rental business being a sort of loss leader promotion.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:15 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or does it feel like we're heading toward another tech crash? How long can investors keep pumping money into companies like this before the bottom falls out? None of these "Uber for ____", including Uber itself, have made a dime of profit. Won't the money people pull the plug eventually?

If recent history is anything to go by it will happen just before a Democratic Party member takes the White House.
posted by srboisvert at 7:32 PM on October 23, 2019 [13 favorites]


I drive through Santa Monica and Venice every day. There's significantly fewer of these scooters around compared to last year. Like, 1 where there would have been 15.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:42 PM on October 23, 2019


I really like having the scooters around (though I wish the enforcement was better to keep them out of sidewalk areas that are needed for wheelchairs and other uses), but I don't understand the economics at all. If the costs had to include fair prices for parking, replacement of the scooters, and so on, they would be a lot higher for sure.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:25 PM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


The nomenclature confuses me (as well as just dumping like-new $500 anythings into the landfill, but I digress). Electric scooters are all over big Chinese cities, both on Taiwan and the mainland. They replaced the horrible old two-stroke bikes still prevalent in Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand (tho I hear those are being phased out just like the Chinese?) And the way they did it was not by banning anything, as I understand it; instead by just refusing to renew the registrations of the old polluting bikes, forcing everyone to go electric, albeit gradually.

But these are scooters like a Vespa, the kind you sit down on to ride. Why are electric scooters like this unknown in the US? How much would they cost? I'd be interested. However, I take it all these Limes and Birds under discussion here are just those electric skateboards with a stick to hold on to, right? Can't understand the appeal; what a good way to get injured, or cause an injury, no thanks. Whatever, I'm still content getting around on my bicycle.
posted by Rash at 8:56 PM on October 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


I’m a big fan of jump bikes. Less a fan of the scooters. Too expensive and slow.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:57 PM on October 23, 2019


Weight limits, aka "why I will never rent a scooter"
Lime TOS: Except as otherwise set forth above in Section 1.4 with respect to Vehicles, You must not exceed the maximum weight limit for any Products (300 pounds) or the cargo carrier/basket on any Products (15 pounds)...

Bird TOS: You must not exceed the maximum weight limit for the Vehicle (220 pounds unless otherwise indicated).

I weigh about 200. Add a heavy coat and a laptop bag, and I'm over Bird's limit.

And of course they're not making money. They vastly overestimated the number of people willing to spend $5-$10 per day on public exercise on busy streets. They cost too much for daily commuters, for something that's not a whole lot faster than walking for short stretches, and is much much slower than a bus for longer stretches. They've made the price comparable to Uber/Lyft, which means people have to want to be exercising, limiting what they can carry, and dealing with safety issues, more than they want to get to their destination quickly.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:08 PM on October 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


I can't get the notion of Counterfeit capitalism out of my head when reading articles like this. As I understand it, the idea is to use investor money laundering on a scale that no one can really comprehend funds to make it possible for a company to offer some service/product at a far-below-market rate. This drives fair-playing competitors out of business and then the nefarious company becomes more or less a monopoly which then jacks up the prices to pay off the grifters venture capitalists who funded the whole crooked scheme to begin with.

If I recall correctly, according to the article, there are (were?) laws against this sort of thing but no one who can do anything about it now gives a fuck. I'm guessing because they're hoping they get at least a toilet cleaning position on some libertarian island nation bunker fortress thing while their meritocratic overlords enjoy the masque of the red death for as long as it lasts.
posted by treepour at 10:39 PM on October 23, 2019 [12 favorites]


Well they have to drive taxis, transit agencies and people selling scooters over the Internet out of business to really get a lock on the market. Not seeing an upside there either.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:49 PM on October 23, 2019


Limes guy / "Why can't I hold all these limes?" a.k.a this stock art.
Dr. Wassenberg does the fruit hoarding on a deeper, existential level. As we did back in the day.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:43 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


There were/are companies in China selling conversion kits for converting Bird/Lime/&c. hire scooters one legitimately *ahem* acquired into personal scooters that don't phone home. Also, the controller boards in some early scooters were off-the-shelf ARM-based Linux SBCs, which could be harvested for personal projects (from the legitimately acquired scooter one bought the conversion kit for, of course); I'm guessing that they've now replaced them with something less hackable and cheaper to produce at quantity.
posted by acb at 3:15 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


The ADA worked for the last 30 years to make our cities more accessible, then came these economic free-rider scooter companies that DO NOT GIVE A SHIT how their product makes the lives of others harder. Most people are annoyed at some level with the scooters, but for those with disabilities they are taking away a fleeting moment of progress. Nobody seems to want to face the fact that someone has to pay for huge infrastructure changes to allow for these scooters to stay OFF sidewalks entirely while being safe in traffic - and not disrupting all the progress on bike lanes and trails for which scooters were not designed.

This is coming to a head. Cities are now getting hit with ADA lawsuits.
posted by Muddler at 4:51 AM on October 24, 2019 [12 favorites]


they're still far more portable than any bicycle
Especially if you just leave them wherever the fuck you want like everyone else.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:08 AM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


But these are scooters like a Vespa, the kind you sit down on to ride. Why are electric scooters like this unknown in the US?

They exist here. At least we have these electric vespa-like scooters here in Pittsburgh called Scoobis. They seem pretty nice but I've always been to scared to ride any kind of motorcycle.

Weirdly my city doesn't have any of the Lime or Bird scooters that plague other cities. I don't know if our terrain is too hilly or if our sidewalks are too broken up but they've never shown up here.
posted by octothorpe at 5:20 AM on October 24, 2019


But these are scooters like a Vespa, the kind you sit down on to ride. Why are electric scooters like this unknown in the US? How much would they cost? I'd be interested.

The bulk of the problem is that over a certain very small engine size they become classed as motorcycles and require licenses both the bike and for the driver and can only be ridden on the road.

Scooters, powered skateboards and some electric bikes come in just under the cutoff weight and are thus much lower friction for users and owners.

The other issue with the larger Vespa scooters is that the have all the disadvantages of motorcycles but cannot be driven on major highways.
posted by srboisvert at 5:31 AM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


Something I was wondering about the bikes and ebikes that are increasingly cluttering the pavements here in London (as a good citizen I push them over as hard and as often as I can, and have been wondering about the logistics of slashing their tyres) - they've essentially been flytipped. Can you really steal things that have been dumped on the street? How can there be a law against people going round with truck, picking them up, stripping them for parts and then selling the parts for scrap?
posted by Grangousier at 6:15 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


All y'all that are enjoying yourselves kicking scooters over: you are kicking them in a way that results in them not blocking the sidewalk, not letting them fall in a way that blocks more of it, right?
posted by asperity at 6:25 AM on October 24, 2019 [21 favorites]


But these are scooters like a Vespa, the kind you sit down on to ride. Why are electric scooters like this unknown in the US?

At least where I am, those scooters are unrideable six months out of the year - and when you can ride them, it's the time of the year when you actually want to be outside, maybe on a bike. I know a few people who have them as a low-gas alternative to driving a car in the summer, but it's definitely their second vehicle.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:28 AM on October 24, 2019


All y'all that are enjoying yourselves kicking scooters over: you are kicking them in a way that results in them not blocking the sidewalk, not letting them fall in a way that blocks more of it, right?

Yes.
posted by Grangousier at 7:12 AM on October 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


Just in case anyone might be interested and wasn't already aware: most (all?) scooter companies have programs that provide discounted rides to low-income folks - discounts ranging from "we'll waive the $1 startup fee" to "$5 a month for unlimited short rides". The definition of low-income varies but tends to refer to anyone on any public assistance program, and sometimes also other groups like students.

You can google for programs from specific companies, but here are a few:
Spin Access
Lime Access
Razor Affordability Program
One Bird
Lyft Community Pass (this is the DC-area program, but the Community Pass program exists in many/all of their areas)
Jump Boost Plan (LA-area site, others exist)

Several of these companies also include special access options for folks without smartphones (allowing you to unlock by SMS instead) - I know Spin and Bird both do, not sure about others.
posted by mosst at 7:39 AM on October 24, 2019 [11 favorites]


Meanwhile, here in Edmonton, people have been setting scooters on fire.
posted by piyushnz at 8:14 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


For those that derive pleasure from watching the destruction of Lime and Bird scooters, might I suggest the Bird Graveyard instagram.
posted by yunhua at 8:31 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


How many scooters would I need to steal and dismember before I could make myself a Tesla Powerwall-type battery for my home?
posted by vibrotronica at 8:36 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


It wouldn't be stealing. If they wanted them they wouldn't leave them lying around.
posted by Grangousier at 8:44 AM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


"I live in a diverse student/working class neighborhood, and a lot of students are using them to get back and forth from the sprawling campus. This is great, too, because the area has really bad parking issues. Now commuter kids are ok with parking in the distant lots because they can spend $2.25 to just ride the scooter to class when they're running late, instead of flooding the neighborhoods with their cars."

What do they do in the winter? Or even when it rains?
posted by Billiken at 8:55 AM on October 24, 2019


People and their clothing are generally washable and also waterproof clothing exists.
posted by asperity at 8:57 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Bit of a derail, but I have a favorite old common law crime that is probably more appropriate than theft, called "trover". It doesn't get hauled out much anymore, but it covers a broad range of situations when you misuse someone else's property in a way that's not theft but still diminishes the value of said property. E.g. in some states, the unauthorized use of a car (joyriding a la Ferris Bueller) is considered trover, even if you return the car at the end of the ride, if in the process you damage the car or otherwise cause harm or diminishment of value to the owner. Hacking or ripping out the control electronics of a scooter so you can get free rides strikes me as probably falling under the same category.

Anyway... when the market shakes some of these VC-funded money-pits out, I suspect there will be a lot of used scooters on the market. There already are quite a few if you know where to look, as a result of police impoundments and auctions. (Supposedly there are some municipalities where they aren't auctioning off impounded scooters, but are simply destroying them, which is a heinous and unjustifiable waste.)

I bought an ex-Bird scooter that had been impounded by the police after being left on the wrong side of a jurisdictional line, then auctioned to a guy I met who pulls off the proprietary electronics and returns them to stock Xiaomi configuration. Cost me all of $250 for a $500 scooter and it's fun as hell.

The only downside is that the rental scooters normally don't fold down; they have a fixed "pole" on the front which you have to replace if you want the thing to fold. For a rental scooter, folding doesn't matter—and the folding mechanism can fail catastrophically in some cases, making its absence understandable. But if you own the thing and want to use it for "last mile" transportation as part of an intermodal commute—e.g. scootering to a bus stop or train station—not having the thing fold is a real deal-breaker.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:58 AM on October 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


Billiken, I'm guessing what they did before the scooters: walk. As someone who has biked in rain and slush, I'm sure most young, able-bodied people have no qualms about scooting in similar weather (with appropriate clothing -- or maybe not!).
posted by JawnBigboote at 9:00 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


People and their clothing are generally washable and also waterproof clothing exists.

This is very dependent on where you live, but the issue isn't necessarily with the connection with the person and the scooter (though visibility is a concern), but the scooter and the road - those tiny wheels on slick pavement or ice are no joke (a lot more prone to sliding than larger bike wheels), and people tend to not think of 15mph as fast enough to be cautious when handling, but it is fast enough to give you some horrible road rash if you slide out.

Also, bike lanes don't get plowed in a lot of places, sidewalks are a disaster, and it's fucking cold to be out in constant 15-20mph winds when it's 10 degrees and you're not moving to keep warm.

Pretending that weather is not a concern for scooters is kind of ridiculous (which is why in the twin cities they're not even available for use in the winter).
posted by dinty_moore at 9:07 AM on October 24, 2019


Was responding more to the rain part, but yeah, you're right about scooters not being nearly as well suited as bicycles for dealing with winter problems. (Biked to work this morning in the snow. It was beautiful and I was cozy, but the real danger with early and late snowstorms is the potential for broken tree branches when wet snow weighs down branches with leaves/buds.)
posted by asperity at 9:19 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


These guys clearly just aren't thinking far enough outside the box. What we gotta do is, we gotta get WeWork (see discussion a few threads up) to acquire one or all of these flailing scooter companies. The resulting confluence of ill-advised venture capital will be so dense that it will blot the sky, drawing in further investment until it crosses the event horizon Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon describes, finally detonating in a vivid technicolor explosion that levels the entire Bay Area and brings the global economy to its knees. Survivors can make their escape on scooter, until the batteries give out.

As an added bonus, they can store the scooters INSIDE the WeWorks when they're not in use. If that doesn't scream "organizational synergy," I don't know what does.
posted by Mayor West at 9:37 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


Every time you see a scooter, knock it over! It's so much fun. Muhahaahhaaahaha
posted by agregoli at 9:39 AM on October 24, 2019


I saw them ALL OVER my town this spring.
Then I saw a homeless dude using one as an unpowered kick scooter after (apparently) just ripping out the electronics (there were just wires sticking out of the box...it was pretty funny)
I saw ONE the other day.
I may steal the next one I see.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:41 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Um, the size of a tire's contact patch with the ground is, for a given load, entirely dependent on the air pressure inside the tire. The M365 scooters used by Bird run at 55PSI (well, they are supposed to; I suspect the average scooter is lower), which is higher than most MTB tires but a lot lower than road bike tires.

There's no reason why they are any worse in the wet than a bicycle, unless you are talking about significant snow where the diameter of the wheel actually comes into question. Under most normal conditions, there's no inherent superiority of a 29" wheel vs a 27" vs an 8" if they're all running at the same pressure and bearing the same load. (You can get into some arguments about efficiency with larger wheel diameters, specifically that they let you cover more linear distance per revolution of the wheel bearing, but this is counteracted by air resistance—small-wheel recumbent bicycles would probably win speed races if they were allowed under various organizations' rules.)

The only thing I can think of that would adversely affect stopping distances on a scooter is the fact that many of them only have a good disc brake on the rear, rather than the front, wheel. I think this is due to a desire not to add more complexity to the front wheel, which typically contains the motor (which does act as a regenerative brake). But on the other hand, it's easier to hop off a scooter once you've dropped down to a running speed; "ditching" off a bike at the same speed will probably give you road rash (I can speak to this rather personally).

There are issues with the way dockless scooter companies are managing their assets, but scooters as vehicles are pretty good devices.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:43 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


And yes, I don't knock them into pathways.
posted by agregoli at 9:43 AM on October 24, 2019


Follow-up question: are the scooters being knocked over in a place that's causing a problem? Or is this an elaborate way to roleplay being a cat?
posted by asperity at 10:08 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


There's no reason why they are any worse in the wet than a bicycle, unless you are talking about significant snow where the diameter of the wheel actually comes into question.

I'm talking about Minnesota, so probably what you consider significant snow are normal winter conditions, and most winter cyclists switch over to a fat tire (there also just aren't that many winter cyclists). There is not going to be a smooth, dry, level pavement from November - April. It's compacted snow/ice on both the roads and sidewalk, unless it's uncompacted snow. This isn't even getting into the effect of severe cold on the battery and electronics. The machine just isn't designed for a northern winter (or, honestly, spring potholes). There's no shame in that! But it's helpful to be realistic about the the limitations of a mode of transportation, especially if we're trying to market them to people who don't have an alternative.

The other part is that people who are riding a bike are more likely to have ridden a bike before and have an idea of how to handle it in a number of different weather conditions - not to mention how to ditch it after losing control. That's what makes scooter skidding on rain slick pavement or ice a going concern - people don't treat the rented scooter as a vehicle with a learning curve and are novices in heavy traffic.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:20 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


A friend just posted a photo of 3 scooters left in a Handicapped parking space. I'd have put them in my car and driven them to the dump. The business model is set up for people to be jerks and misuse the comons, so, sure, sustainable, I guess.
posted by theora55 at 10:52 AM on October 24, 2019


Man, imagine if people could knock over parked cars. Talk about misused public space.
posted by mosst at 11:50 AM on October 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


Knocking scooters over is teenage first-world-anarchist levels of nonsense.
posted by MillMan at 11:54 AM on October 24, 2019 [8 favorites]


Yes, but it’s fun.
posted by Grangousier at 12:11 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think of these like rental cars: something that's only really interesting and entertaining to use if abused horribly beyond the parameters that would allow sustained reliability over time. The Ride scooters all over Adelaide don't seem that well made and I doubt I'd want to live with the hassle of maintaining one, but hell if it isn't fun to jump them off curbs and lock the back wheel up in a huge slide every time I come to a stop. Unlike a rental car, there's also the vicious joy of knowing that the service is a fundamentally unprofitable one, and so every ride helps to pick at the pockets of some VC jackass, even if only fractionally.
posted by MarchHare at 1:12 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


But these are scooters like a Vespa, the kind you sit down on to ride.
We have those in DC - the company is called Revel. They manage to be slightly less obnoxious, probably because there are more rules regarding their use.

There's no reason why they are any worse in the wet than a bicycle
There's some reason, because they kind of are. The Lime ones at least are significantly more squirrely in the rain than a bike. They also straight cannot handle potholes, which it may shock people to learn are quite prevalent in our nation's fair capital.

Not sure about the stopping distance thing; the issue I've seen is more one of staying on one while you're braking.

I saw someone riding two at once up 18th st NW yesterday, one per leg. It seemed like a great way to get one of those groin injuries you can get skiing.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:55 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


Unless you crouch or sit on your scooter, efficient front brakes on a scooter would make you face plant every time. Pitching is already the limiting factor on upright bicycle braking, it's that much worse for a vehicle with the center of gravity so much higher and farther forward toward the point of rotation.

I have moments of scooter hate too, but since I don't want anyone trashing my car or bike or stealing any bag I set down on the ground for three seconds, I'll do the scooter companies and renters the courtesy of not stealing them frivolously. At least until the local city comes up with a plan for where they should be parked and when they should be impounded.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:22 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd have put them in my car and driven them to the dump. The business model is set up for people to be jerks and misuse the comons, so, sure, sustainable, I guess.

Leaving things other than cars with valid handicapped parking privileges in handicapped parking spaces is super-shitty behavior, but let's not kid ourselves that unnecessary car trips aren't a massive abuse of the commons, too.
posted by asperity at 2:46 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Why are electric scooters like this unknown in the US? How much would they cost? I'd be interested.

Google the Razor Ecosmart Metro. This is an adult-sized electric scooter with a seat and a sturdy basket, still in the bicycle class though. Cost me about $400, here in the USA. Top speed is around 15mph and it has larger wheels which are less likely to get caught in every little pavement crack.

It does not fold, though, and it's too heavy for me to lift into a car. And as my disability has progressed I find I need a trike.

The other big drawback to the Razor is that it has three 12-volt lead acid batteries wired in series, and they don't hold up; the range on new batteries is about ten miles but it declines quickly. Cost for a new lead acid battery set is about $60. You could upgrade to lithium, there are plenty of 36 volt packs which would be a direct swap, but they cost a couple hundred dollars.

But overall, I just love this thing, it's been great. I have been riding it since 2014, and when the Limes and Birds arrived I was pleased to see these machines becoming available to others. I get a lot of use out of mine, it lets me avoid getting the car out for days at a time.
posted by elizilla at 3:12 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


Bit of a derail, but I have a favorite old common law crime that is probably more appropriate than theft, called "trover"....Hacking or ripping out the control electronics of a scooter so you can get free rides strikes me as probably falling under the same category.

I would have said conversion or trespass; those are the name of the torts (aka wrongs) themselves. Trover is, more properly, the name of a civil action you may bring to recover money damages as a result of the tortious conversion of your property. If you want the property back, the name of the action you bring is replevin. I don't remember if you can bring an action in trover for trespass to chattels...
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:43 PM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


As a disabled person living in San Francisco, the scooters have been incredible. The City is open to me more in ways that were impossible before. Without my scooter, I can't get up hills. As soon as Bird launched their private scooter rental program, I jumped on. And it's only $25 dollars a month. I carried groceries home today AND a big bag of cat food. That would have been impossible without my scooter.
posted by foxtongue at 7:08 PM on October 24, 2019 [9 favorites]


private scooter rental program

I wish that was offered here, I would definitely rent one.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:30 PM on October 24, 2019


so it strikes me that the most ecologically sound way to have an electric scooter of one's own — and look, electric scooters are super super fun, i kind of want one and you should too — anyway, it strikes me that the most ecologically sound way to have an electric scooter is not to buy one, but instead to jailbreak and expropriate a rideshare scooter. if you buy a scooter, you're responsible for the manufacture of one more scooter. if you covert-requisition a rideshare scooter, you're saving an already-manufactured scooter from the landfill.

Ok so hypothetically I hang out with a buncher of nerd hacker types, one of whom hypothetically became known as Scooter Claus last winter when Bird was still using the Xiaomi M365, which required a $20 OEM part and screwdriver to liberate back to factory condition.

Here in the bay area I see tons of these things hotwired by the homeless & teenagers. You can also pick up an obviously liberated de-stickered Bird for like $100 on craigslist.
posted by bradbane at 8:51 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]




Every time you see a scooter, knock it over! It's so much fun. Muhahaahhaaahaha


Why would you do this? It just seems shitty and childish. Are you mad at people who use scooters to get around? Because if you're mad a scooter companies, knocking over scooters doesn't do a damn thing to them.

Yes, sometimes I ride a scooter, especially if I've gone to the pet store and have a giant bag of canned cat food to lug home and it's 85 degrees out and the bus isn't coming for another half hour. Nothing like walking several blocks out of my way to find a scooter that some asshole has kicked into the bushes where the homeless people drink. So pleased to hear that adults take pleasure in creating that situation.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:11 PM on October 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


okay so i'm going to write an app named trovr help me decide what it does
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:49 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


What do they do in the winter? Or even when it rains?
posted by Billiken at 11:55 AM on October 24 [+] [!]


I live next to the ocean and it rarely snows here, and when it does classes are typically cancelled. It does rain a lot, though, so people are p much just used to it. Wear a rain coat.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:19 AM on October 25, 2019


As an added bonus, they can store the scooters INSIDE the WeWorks when they're not in use

Amusingly, when I worked out of a Santa Monica WeWork for a while, next door to our space were some weirdos doing electronic work on electric scooters. It was almost certainly Bird.
posted by flaterik at 2:29 AM on October 26, 2019


Oh, just found out that Bird/Lime scooters are illegal in PA which is why Philly and Pittsburgh don't have them.
posted by octothorpe at 2:21 PM on October 26, 2019


The city of Seattle is soliciting feedback on a planned scooter pilot program. (Currently we have lots of dockless e-bikes but no scooters.)
posted by mbrubeck at 2:42 PM on October 26, 2019


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