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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023

Rooting for Scooters

Have you taken a stand on the app-based, pay-by-the-mile electric scooters that seem to be scattered about the city in greater numbers every time you look around?

Don’t sweat it if you haven’t – the market is ready to handle the job.

The public sector is doing some preliminary work to various effects.

Some city governments welcome the scooters as a cheap solution to the “last mile” – the fabled link from home to public transit stop.

Other local authorities see danger, risk and a general tendency toward disorder.

And others likely see different reasons to dislike the scooters – some of the companies that offer them to the public haven’t exactly been sticklers about paying for business licenses, and some elected officials might have their own reasons to favor established providers of transportation over newcomers in any case.

It’s nearly time, anyway, for the market to take a greater hand in the situation, and it’s well equipped to sort out the matter of the scooters without any of the sorts of cruelly sharp edges that can come with unchecked capitalism.

This occurred to me on a recent jog along the grassy median of Pico Boulevard in the Mid-City area. I had to stop at a red light at Pico and San Vincente, and a young woman pulled up alongside me on a pay-as-you-go scooter. She wasn’t traversing her last mile. She told me she was headed to the Grove shopping center, and the 3-mile, one-way trip on the scooter would cost her $2.60.

That level of service at that price is going to win a customer base.

A customer base means the lawyers will come – and we then will see if the scooters will have to be redesigned to carry helmets, and whether the helmets will have to be equipped with sanitary spray, and so on.

That will mean more expenses for production, not to mention liability insurance.

The price of a ride will go up, and we’ll have to see how much the young lady on her way to the Grove is willing to shell out before she opts for a bus or ride-share service.

Then will come the unfortunate reality of crime. Folks will figure out ways to game whatever digital wonder keeps the scooters from rolling unless someone’s paying. And someone will figure out there’s some value in the materials or component parts that might – when commodity markets are right – tempt them to drive about tossing the vehicles into the back of pickup trucks for transport to a recycler, salvage yard or smelter.

None of this is fun, but it all might serve a good purpose. These scooter outfits deserve a place on our streets if they can deal with the lawyers, manage their risks, overcome the same potential for crime that so many other businesses face and still keep their prices low enough to keep their customers.

That’s the market – and the scooters present a fine opportunity to watch it work.

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