The electric scooter boom began in 2017-2018 and has continued ever since.
Whether you enjoy them, despise them, or don’t particularly care, it all leads to one question:
Are electric scooters the future?
Current trends suggest electric scooters are the future of personal, urban transportation—or at least a big part of the future. Sales and ridership will keep growing rapidly, and may replace small motorcycle/moped use. Local policy variables are unpredictable, but important because they both influence and respond to scooter use.
Either way, the answer is important for cities, for industry, and perhaps even for where and how we personally choose to live.
And whether you’re looking at the question through urban policy, environmental, financial, or even public health lenses, it’s simply too important to ignore.
So, while it’s fun to speculate on, let’s see if there are firmer signs of the future of electric scooters.
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They’re already highly popular
We all know from personal observation that they’re hard to miss in major cities. But what do the data say?
According to Grand View Research, the market is already worth well over $1B in the US alone, and should continue growing at an average of 13.7% per year through 2028.
Worldwide, the same analytics foresee 7.6% annual growth during the same period.
For context, that’s significantly higher than some medium-term auto sales projections.
There’s no chance e-scooters will outnumber cars in the foreseeable future, but they’re already popular—and more so with each passing year.
Will electric scooters be banned?
Now, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
In short, electric scooters will not be banned altogether, but some locales will continue to pass extremely restrictive laws.
I can only speculate, of course, but this seems like the probable result of recent trends point.
However, we need to clarify what “banned” means. They’re long since banned in some settings, but unlikely ever to be in others.
- From all streets?
- From streets without bike lanes?
- From streets above certain speed limits?
- From multi-use paths?
- From sidewalks?
(And that’s without even getting into rider or vehicle licensing requirements…)
Cities vary wildly in urban design, local attitudes and preferences, existing infrastructure, planned infrastructure, and so forth.
All these things impact their prohibition/permission, so there will always be a range of policies on electric scooters.
Some are perplexing. For instance, as of writing they’re banned from roads and permitted on sidewalks in Calgary, yet banned from sidewalks and permitted on roads in nearby Edmonton!
That said, the laws will probably become more consistent with time.
For perspective, e-scooters have only been widely used for a few years, as of writing, which is still quite new in the world of government and policymaking!
Many current laws are basically provisional. They view scooters as something to deal with rather than incorporate into existing transportation plans (which are rarely updated more than every few years).
Major industry lobbying could certainly prompt more uniform laws and infrastructure, as the auto industry did for cars. But with comparatively little money on the table for electric scooters, that’s highly unlikely.
Large companies have a stake
As I’ve covered elsewhere, there are some major corporate players in the e-scooter world.
Google and major VC firms own large stakes in scooter-share operators.
Some of the most popular models for private use are made by public companies in China (albeit just one tiny part of their much larger businesses).
Even if the scooter segment pales in comparison to autos or bicycles, the point is that this big money means we can expect a big push for scooter use (and scooter-friendly policies) in the near future.
What are electric scooters currently used for?
Electric scooters are mainly used for three things:
- As a walking/cycling alternative for last-mile trips
- As a hobby (and a more accessible alternative to motorcycles)
- For racing, albeit not yet common
1. Walking & cycling alternative for last-mile transportation
It’s almost always efficient to run public transit between two major downtown stations (for example).
But the trip from your front door to the station, or from the station to your workplace, may be another story.
In urban planning, this is known as the “last mile.” And that’s exactly where electric scooters come in.
Rather than walking, many commuters prefer to grab a public rental scooter (or even buy their own to turn those 10- or 20-minute walks into much quicker trips).
With just a handful of people (at most) starting/ending from the same block, there’s little economy of scale, so they’ll never be very efficient for public transportation.
Instead, some cities permit or even incentivize shared electric scooters to speed up last-mile travel without making infrastructure changes.
Whether that’s the right solution is another matter, but it’s certainly a popular one.
2. Fun, accessible hobby riding (and motorcycle alternative)
Just like many people enjoy taking their bicycle or motorcycle out for a spin, it’s also fun to cruise around on an electric scooter.
They offer a little taste of the power and speed of a motorcycle, but at prices more in keeping with a decent bicycle.
And since most jurisdictions require just a regular driver’s license (or none at all) for public roadways, and no insurance, they’re far more accessible than motorcycles.
What’s more, compared to even a tiny motorcycle, the biggest electric scooters around are a piece of cake to store!
3. The emerging sport of electric scooter racing
If it has wheels, it will be raced. Period.
And as of 2021, electric scooter racing is officially on the calendar.
There are already a few local races with existing, production scooters:
Die-hard racing fans will also be excited to witness the new, Formula-style eSkootr Championships. If and when it goes live, the series will feature more purpose-built scooters like this seriously futuristic prototype.
Will “eSkootr” catch on, or fade into sporting obscurity, or fizzle before it even begins? Nobody knows…but we can hope it makes for some fun and exciting competition in the mean time.
Is it worth buying one today?
If you’re on the fence about an electric scooter, then try out a public shared scooter first. For frequent riders, it’s well worth buying both to save money and to enjoy a well-maintained vehicle.
But before putting that money down, make sure you like the basic riding experience. And if your town is talking about prohibiting scooters wherever you’d need to ride, then keep renting until the legislative dust settles and you know exactly what’s permitted.
Another consideration is whether the technology is stable enough to purchase now versus hold out for next year’s latest and greatest.
At this point, we’re no longer seeing massive year-to-year differences. This year’s best electric scooters aren’t noticeably different from last year’s.
Buy now, ride now, and worry about the technical improvements later—if ever.
(Wondering which to get? Well, it depends on your budget and needs, of course, but the Ninebot Max as reviewed here is just about perfect for practical use.)
Electric scooters may not be the future of all transportation, but they’re probably the future of 1- and 2-mile trips in the city.
Legal statuses are inconsistent and perpetually changing, so more uniform laws will determine when electric scooters become truly mainstream.
Wondering whether an e-scooter is your future?
Also, as linked earlier, I’ve rounded up some top picks and buying tips right here.