eScooters ahoy!


In recent years Austria has seen a two-wheeled plague, not of cyclists, who have been on the roads for far longer than that, but of scooter riders. I remember my kid sister having a scooter back in the 1970s, a fad that seemed to rapidly pass. And unlike skateboards, which I have never really fathomed out whether they are in or out, that was presumably that for the scooter.

Or at least so I thought. However, I was distinctly mistaken. For nigh on a decade I have seen mini/micro scooters (the difference seems negligble to me) on public transport as well as locked up by the school on Krottenbachstrasse, and of course have nearly been knocked over by a child riding one. But now the plague is growing, and has taken on an adult dimension. Fully grown adults, with fully grown limbs that are in full working order have taken to their scooters. Pedestrians have to take evasive action, as do passengers on the bus, who have to fear for their limbs – either from falling scooters that have not been stored and attached properly to ensure that they will not fall over on board the bus, or from the ham-fisted rider of the scooter so spatially unaware that they run over feet, bump into ankles of worst of all, a combination of the two with a healthy jab from a rucksack to boot, all while sporting headphones that make they remarkably oblivious to the surroundings around them.

However, the rider propelled scooters have turned out to be only one source of scooter-based peril. Now Vienna is in the thrall of the eScooter. A device I first witnessed while transiting at a large airport, the eScooter now infests the pavements. Not just when elegantly or schematically parked, but also on their sides when they fall over due to incorrect parking. Slowly their breeding meant that they spread to the outer districts, where I had hoped in vain that they would not encroach. But alas, even the Cottageviertel, which usually tuts and shakes its head at any non-aesthetic development, is no longer a sanctuary from this expanding plague. Street corners by my home are now being targeted for these electric scooters. And as the digital age moves ever forward, a smartphone app and a credit card (presumably to make such scooters unreachable for Luddites and children) are the replacement for the former days of a key for a bicycle lock.

Apparently they have limited their top speed, from 30kmh to about 20kmh, but the way they zip around haphazardly – admittedly due to their daredevil pilots – and it amazes me that there are not more tales of pedestrians being mown down by this scourge.

Austria’s Road Traffic Code appears to have been beefed up and brought in line with the new plague. With only a limited crop of friends and acquaintances on twitter who are either pro eScooters or have used them, my information has been widely gleaned from the Internet. It seems that eScooters are collected in at night for recharging, and that you have to be careful to check whether they are closely to fully charged before hiring them. Two users on an online forum bemoaned being stuck en route as their scooter puttered to a near crawl as the battery went below about 70%. Others complain that you might need as many as five apps to ensure you find one nearby.

Others claim that more corpulent riders may struggle to use some of the providers’ scooters, since all are apparently not equal. Others claim that charging is not so transparent as the € 1 to unlock and then 15 cents a minute. And then there is the elephant in the room that users are effectively paying for the privilege of providing their data to providers for who knows what purpose.

I’ve not managed to get through to understanding whether this new strand to the gig economy is also as exploitative as say Uber is apparently, or the poor souls I see toiling on their bikes (non-electric powered at that) up the hill to deliver pizzas, burgers or other grazing material for the couch-ridden and non-cooking fraternity. Nephew, free from his financial shackles, has preferred to be a hermit within his means cornering the Nachhilfe market again as he did last year rather than swelling their ranks.

I strongly hope that eScooters prove to be a temporary aberration and flash in the pan, before they are hopefully banished from our streets.