Uber launched its first E scooters in Santa Monica, California in October 2018 after the city okayed Uber and four other companies to operate 250 shared scooters each. Uber isn't the first to roll out these scooters for affordable electric last-mile connectivity, they were first introduced in San Francisco and there are several startups flourishing in the segment with e-scooters making their way across the US and some parts of Europe and the Middle East as well. The scooter, which looks like a skateboard with a handlebar, has existed for a very long time - mainly as children's toys but now as it turns out they have a larger purpose.
What are e-scooters?
Uber collaborated with Jump scooters and made them available through its app as personal rented transport for short distances. Customers can use the app to locate the nearest scooter and walk to it or reserve it before they start walking to it.
Once located, the customer needs to scan a QR code on the handlebar to unlock it. Using them is fairly simple - step on the floorboard, kick off the ground three times and then throttle to catch speeds of up to 24 km/h. To slow down, press the brake on the left of the handlebar or step on the one on the floorboard to stop.
Riders are required to have a valid driver's licence which means those under 18 years of age can't ride them. The rider must wear a helmet and follow all traffic rules as per laws in effect in the respective city. It takes $1 (Rs 68.98) to rent them and then 15 cents (Rs 10.35) per minute.
Last-mile convenience or hazard?
Some US cities including Santa Monica were quick to initiate a crackdown on e-scooters, issuing letters to cease them or simply order them off the streets. In theory, the concept appears without a flaw - e-scooters are affordable, personal, 'dockless' so they can be parked anywhere, there's no pedalling involved so you don't break a sweat and they're electric.
So, what's wrong with them? Firstly, cities do not have designated scooter lanes so riders are forced to ride e-scooters on sidewalks, bike paths or worse the main road causing a hazard to themselves and other road users.
Secondly, currently more than for last-mile connectivity, these scooters are so far being used for thrill rides. They are easy to use, convenient, and fun to ride. An electric scooter being ridden by a 19-year-old kid or a 35-year-old kid down the sidewalk does pose a threat as a public nuisance.
Will they come to India?
In an interview earlier this month, Jump’s founder and CEO, Ryan Rzepecki told CNBC-TV18 that as part of its expansion strategy, Jump will foray into India. “We’re very interested in the Indian market,” Rzepecki told CNBC-TV18, in Santa Monica, adding: “I’ve had some conversations internally, and I think this (Jump Scooters) is something that can work there.”
So, it is likely Uber's Jump scooters will come to India. But Rzepecki understands that infrastructure in India needs improvement over the next two years. “But there’s definitely a need, especially with India’s huge transportation challenges and the fact that public transport systems are often very crowded.” Jump believes that such crowded public transport systems will welcome such "lighter modes".
Will e-scooters gel with the Indian transportation system?
Indian infrastructure, as mentioned earlier, does need improvement since currently, all modes of transportation use the same road here. So, if Uber E scooters are to launch here, it will probably not happen right away.
E-scooters are new and do have a fun factor involved so their usage for joy rides will be inevitable. Another threat involved – this time for the scooter itself – is vandalism. E-scooters can be parked anywhere and do not have any supervision.
In conclusion, however, once the riders have used them enough for them to be fun anymore and start to use them as a regular means of transport, learnt to be considerate towards the safety of others on the road and there are designated lanes so regular traffic is not hindered – it is a very good concept. But surely, it will rather take a long time for all of these requirements to be streamlined in India.