Motorized scooters are a thing9/5/2018
Just not yet in Iowa
In the season two “South Park” episode “Prehistoric Ice Man,” a guy named Larry is found frozen in ice and thawed, wherein they find he was frozen for three years. The locals react as if this ice man is truly prehistoric due to his dress and pop culture references being so dated. After some shenanigans, the solution is to send Larry to Des Moines, as we are seemingly always behind the times culturally. As old as this joke is to central Iowans, the creators of “South Park” deemed it worthy of a 20-minute-build-up on their — at the time — red-hot TV show. Twenty years later, we in the heartland like to think this joke no longer carries weight; however, there are some definite examples of how Iowa is still waiting ever patiently for the coasts to tell us what’s next. A small and seemingly odd example is the tech craze of motorized scooters.
Have you seen a motorized scooter recently? Definitely not around Des Moines or within the state’s borders, but these funny-looking-powered-skateboards-with-handlebars are all the rage up and down the coast. Not only that, but they can be found in Chicago, Minneapolis, Austin, Denver and even Salt Lake City. Yes, Des Moines is apparently lamer than Salt Lake City.
The thing to understand is that these aren’t simply personally owned scooters, but they are ride-share scooters, similar to Uber or Lyft. The major difference from Uber or Lyft is that these scooters aren’t owned by private citizens but by the company themselves and are rented, used, and returned all via smartphone applications.
The tech craze over these things is simple. On the rental end, scooters are cheap to purchase, maintain and scrap. Technology makes it easy to monitor a scooter’s location, secure its use, and keep track of who used it last in the case of damage or theft. Plus, there are currently very few regulations or laws about scooter use, requiring insurance, or state registration/titling, so liability concerns are not as set in stone as automobile ownership and sharing. Also, unlike a car share situation, there is no splitting the rental fee with a third party since scooters are owned by the company instead of private citizens.
As for the renter, motorized scooters are a simple, quick means to get from point A to point B. Scooters take up a smaller footprint than bikes, they are easier to park, and, due to the technology monitoring and security, they can be left virtually anywhere city ordinances allow. Sure, you might look silly to some, but these things will get you where you want to go with little effort and on the cheap. Unlike waiting for an Uber/Lyft ride, moments after you fire up the app, your scooter is unlocked, and you’re on your way. If anything, it saves rideshare drivers aggravation, providing the potential to eliminate short trips.
If you still don’t get it, here are just a few names of companies in the scooting business: Bird, Limebike, Ofo, Mobike and Jump. Those names mean nothing now, but Uber has partnered with Lime to scale up the scooter numbers to meet rider demand, and Bird already has an estimated worth of $2 billion and is expanding rapidly across the country.
One nice thing about being behind the times is that other municipalities can figure out the headaches. Some parts of California have banned scooters; others are forcing them to ride and park in the street. So maybe by the time Bird or Lime trend in the 515, the concerns will be ironed out. ♦
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.