My May column for the Visual Thesaurus talks about how we talk about e-scooters, the rentable two-wheelers from companies like Lime, Bird, Skip, and Spin that have swooped into San Francisco, Oakland, and many other cities.
Lime e-scooters at a downtown Oakland BART station.
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Today’s electric scooters weigh between 25 and 40 pounds and are sometimes called LEVs, or “light electric vehicles.” (Almost all of them have four-letter brand names, for no reason I can discern other than copycatting.) Proponents tout them as a solution to the challenges of first-mile and last-mile transportation, terms that originated in the freight and supply-chain industries and now refer to getting people from their starting point to a transportation hub (bus stop, train station) or from the hub to a final destination. Naysayers have taken to prophesying scootergeddon: an aggressive “invasion” of two-wheeled vehicles as dire as the End of Days.
Then there are those who look at the big picture, regarding e-scooters as a necessary element of the micro-mobility movement, which seeks to shift the balance of city transportation from gas-powered cars to human-powered bicycles and to scooters and small cars powered by electricity. There’s even serious talk about Universal Basic Mobility, or UBM. Modeled on the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI), UBM recognizes freedom of movement as a basic human right. It might be implemented through a platform called mobility as a service (MaaS), a term modeled on “software as a service” (SaaS), which emerged during the late 1990s in the first dot-com boom. MaaS combines transportation services from public and private transportation providers “through a unified gateway that creates and manages the trip, which users can pay for with a single account,” according to a Wikipedia entry.