As an environmentalist, it is incumbent upon me to approve of the use of electric vehicles, such as the electric scooters found around Columbia.
The use of scooters negate, to some extent, the dependence upon gas-fueled cars and trucks and single-occupancy vehicles. The scooters provide a quick and easy way for students and others to navigate the streets and roads of Columbia. And, after a ride, the battery is recharged overnight and ready to go again.
But there are problems.
For one thing, while helmets are required — even though the legislature repealed the requirement to wear one on state roads, it has not been determined how that affects lower units of government — hardly ever does a scooter rider wear one. This is quite understandable, as most potential scooter renters are sort of a spur-of-the-moment decision. Most riders don’t even own a helmet, and the scooter company doesn’t provide one with the rented scooter. I observed a number of scooter riders in the downtown area last year but don’t recall ever seeing one with a helmet. Admittedly, this is only my observation and does not constitute a scientific survey. Is helmet use enforced on motorcycle riders? Probably not, but the point is that scooter riders are scofflaws. Helmet? Forget it.
Several cities have banned electric scooters for precisely this reason. Not wearing a helmet has led to several deaths, and, consequently, the ruling out of any rental scooters.
The second problem is a big one and one that is not easily correctable. While scooter riders are prohibited from riding on the sidewalk, riding on the streets is dangerous. Scooters are small, not very noticeable and are no match for much larger cars and trucks. Not only that, but people who rent a scooter are not given any instructions on operation or how to ride in traffic. There is a course for bicyclists on how to ride on the streets, but, to my knowledge, such a thing does not exist for scooter riders. It seems that riding a scooter in traffic is hazardous to one’s health, especially without a helmet.
The third problem is how the scooters’ batteries are recharged. While the recharging itself is fairly straightforward, involving only a plug-in and a battery charger, the electricity is provided, for the most part, by coal-fired power plants. Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, is the primary reason for global warming and why the West Coast’s forests are on fire. This is not only a problem with electric vehicles but also is a major one that needs to be addressed.
The concerns are, for now, moot. The Columbia City Council voted to not enter into a contract with Bird Scooters. But this was merely a delay, not a permanent prohibition. Thanks to Councilperson Pat Fowler for leading the effort to suspend a contract with Bird for a few months, and thanks to the other members who supported her effort.
But, until the above problems are addressed, which appears unlikely, the contract should not be entered into. It seems to me that the scooter-rental companies need to come up with solutions. The city of Columbia also needs to address how violations will be enforced. Until then, heads and sidewalk walkers are in danger.