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Elvert Barnes for Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/32088630458

Hoboken announced on April 3 that the city would be the first in New Jersey to introduce an electric scooter sharing program. A six-month pilot program was introduced after an ordinance was passed, allowing Lime and P3GM — which operates JerseyBike — to provide rental scooters within city limits. Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla stated, “I am thrilled Hoboken is leading the way for the rest of the state to implement an additional mode of green transportation. Electric scooters will help residents easily travel around our city, reduce congestion on our roadways, and improve access to transit stations and business districts.” 

As e-scooters begin cropping up closer to home, it raises the question again: should Princeton bring rental scooters to campus? The Transportation Task Force within USG has already brought up the possibility of introducing electric scooter rentals to campus, but the issue has been gaining strength among the student population as more people clamor for Bird, Lime, or Spin to establish a presence in Princeton. While there are many legitimate reasons to be wary of a scooter sharing program, the pros suggest that a limited trial run is worth exploring. 

E-scooters have become the year’s biggest tech trend, with investors pouring nearly one billion dollars into companies in the past few months. In major cities like Paris and London, more than four different companies’ scooters can be seen strewn across sidewalks. Yet regulatory roadblocks and market saturation are already causing investors to worry that the bubble is already ready to burst.

Other colleges have attempted to bring e-scooter rentals to campus with mixed results. 

Miami University in Ohio struggled with e-scooters after removing its ban on the vehicles, implementing conditions including “that riders must walk the scooters on sidewalks, ride them in campus bike lanes and park them at bike racks.” Other schools, such as Indiana University at Bloomington and Michigan State University, have instituted similar regulations about parking. 

Since many students have violated these policies, school administrators have resorted to impounding the scooters for multiple weeks. Given the existing crowding of bikes around hubs like Firestone Library and Frist Campus Center, it is worth questioning whether Princeton has the space for the scooters to park. It would also be a significant burden on PSafe to impound all misplaced scooters.

Health concerns understandably cause some hesitation for those considering an e-scooter program in Princeton. One issue that has been brought up is that drunk students will harm themselves and others if they attempt to ride home from the Street — however, the scooters are generally shut off to be charged after a certain point in the evening, precluding impaired students from using them as nights out end. 

Another concern involves the safety issues associated with the relatively high-speed vehicles, which is more difficult to address. There have been many incidents with scooter riders becoming seriously injured, especially because most riders don’t use helmets. Would Princeton be held responsible for injuries that occur on rental scooters? Can McCosh Health Center handle an influx of students with the head injuries, fractures, and dislocated joints that studies have found are associated with e-scooter use? 

Even non-riders may be put at risk, as pedestrians frequently trip over carelessly thrown scooters on the sidewalk. The scooters in Hoboken and many other cities are limited to the bike lanes, something Princeton’s campus lacks. Bikes currently swerve between the sidewalks and the street. However, “boosted boards” (electric skateboards) already co-exist with bikes, pedestrians, and cars, and can reach similar speeds as e-scooters: 25 mph. Princeton students may be able to incorporate a significant number of rental scooters with little impact on the existing transportation ecosystem.

Some cities have initiated e-scooter programs to great success. Citizens in Portland, Oregon, responded well to a four-month e-scooter sharing pilot; 62 percent viewed the scooters positively, and 71 percent reported that they use e-scooters frequently to travel to their destination. But in Santa Monica, the first city to see a Bird program, chaos followed the start-up: “Citizens piloted Birds on the sidewalk (illegally). Teens caused mayhem by ignoring traffic laws while double-riding. Pedestrians tripped over discarded scooters that clogged the walkways. 

There were accidents, serious head injuries — Birds zip along at 15 miles an hour, and few trying them out wore helmets — and hundreds of tickets issued to riders. There was a protest. There was a counterprotest. Six months after the scooters appeared, Bird agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a nine-count misdemeanor criminal complaint levied by the city attorney’s office.” This evidence indicates only that the exact circumstances surrounding rental scooter programs matter — therefore, it is worth exploring exactly how Princeton’s specific campus structure would react to an e-scooter rental program.

While the e-scooter trend has been hailed as an environmental boon, it may not even be as friendly as has been claimed. Most of the scooters are charged using coal power, making them significantly less environmentally friendly than biking or walking. The charging system also requires that a contractor collect all scooters at the end of the day, wherever they have ended up, to be charged at a central location. According to Inhabitat, a green lifestyle site, this charging system may actually counteract the benefits — chargers use cars to collect scooters and are likely undoing any of the carbon-saving performed by the scooters.

Ultimately, the scooters have as many potential drawbacks as benefits. They are admittedly fun and convenient, but also potentially dangerous and environmentally draining. They may clutter our sidewalks or improve attendance at lectures across campus. Before we can even deduce the merits, the entire industry may go bankrupt. The best solution is a measured one: introduce a limited time trial program with a very small number of scooters — perhaps a fifth of the current number of bikes on campus. 

This way, both supporters and detractors can observe exactly how the e-scooter trend would play out on Princeton’s small but active campus. If the scooters can be easily integrated into our current transportation system, they would provide an affordable and quick way to get around. But if McCosh becomes overwhelmed with scooter-related injuries, we will have learned our lesson.

Madeleine Marr is a sophomore from Newtown Square, Pa. She can be reached at mmarr@princeton.edu.

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