Invasion of the Birds | The Impact of E-Scooter Disruption Miguel Pujols August 7, 2020

Invasion of the Birds | The Impact of E-Scooter Disruption

…an unsuspecting California seaside town is suddenly besieged by thousands of killer birds for no apparent reason. I can relate. Having lived in Venice Beach for the last 7 years, I can recall a simpler time when the greatest threat to life and limb were the clusters of raving lunatics by the boardwalk, along with a pesky clan of teenage vampires that live under the pier. Those were innocent times.


Then, one unassuming day in September of 2017, it began… At first there were just 10 of them in Santa Monica. Far enough and small enough to not raise an eyebrow. But seemingly overnight, they multiplied into the hundreds. Bird (along with its competitor Lime) decline to disclose exactly where and how many scooters they’ve deployed, along with any tally of rides. But if you’re feeling courageous, I dare you to step foot in Venice or Santa Monica on any given day and you will find yourself in the path of an e-scooter zooming toward you at 15 miles per hour – usually with a man-bun attached to it.


For $1 for the first 30 minutes (and 15 cents every additional minute), and with a range of approximately 19 miles, these scooters offer people an economical alternative to Uber and Lyft, and are certainly eco-friendly when it comes to not crushing the planet with a carbon footprint. There is certainly little confusion over why these brands are flourishing in metropolitan areas, but this blog isn’t about the ingenious origins of Bird and Lime, or their meteoric rise in our commerce and culture (which has been covered extensively over the last two years). This is about how such disruptive technology has the power to not only create new markets, but also transform entire communities across the globe. For better or worse depends on your perspective…


Case in point: riding the 13 mile stretch of glorious bike path from Venice up to the Pacific Palisades and back used to be an exercise in attention, but still maintained its overall pleasantry. Nowadays, if I want to tempt fate, I will venture out on my trusty / rusty single-speed beach cruiser and count how many e-scooter accidents I witness – and in some cases, narrowly avoid. The city has made an effort to mitigate this chaos by establishing “No E-Scooter Zones” – in the form of ground stencils and signage – but people blow past these either out of ignorance or indifference. Sure, cops can issue tickets: $190 for riding without a helmet, and up to $352 for riding under the influence, but this seems to have little impact on the matter. There is simply no stopping them…


The CDC’s recent findings about e-scooters being potentially dangerous to our safety should come as little surprise to anyone who lives around them. Fortunately, much of this danger can be completely averted with a little common sense. The only people who are supposed to ride these scooters are helmet-clad adults over the age of 18 with valid driver licenses, but they’ve become insanely popular among teenagers who have yet to develop any sense of self-preservation or basic laws of physics.


In fact, ER visits have spiked 160% in communities that are under e-scooter occupation. The most common injuries involve fractures, dislocations and all manner of head trauma. Of course, e-scooter brands can’t be held responsible for the wellbeing of dumb consumers, just like auto manufacturers can’t be liable if you drink a dozen margaritas before getting behind the wheel to find more margaritas. Bird goes so far as to say their concern for customers’ safety is an “obsession” on their site, where they break down where to ride, where to park, rules of the road, and some cautionary tips. But as comedian Ron White is fond of saying, “Ya can’t fix stupid.”


Of course, teenagers aren’t exclusively to blame, bless their Millennial hearts. One San Diego University study revealed that of all the e-scooter accidents they studied, 98% of patients were not wearing a helmet, 48% had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit for intoxication, and 52% tested positive for an illicit substance. So in other words: a bunch of drunken, drug-fueled adults zipping through traffic with their tender skulls ready to be cracked open like eggs on a frying pan.


The CDC report states, ““A high proportion of e-scooter related injuries involved potentially preventable risk factors, such as lack of helmet use, or motor vehicle interaction.” Of course, “Motor vehicle interaction” is a nice way of saying “smashed by a car.” The study, which lasted nearly three months, also determined:


The e-scooter injury rate was 14.3 per 100,000 trips
The median age for people injured was 29
The majority of injuries occurred on the street
29% of accidents connected to first-time riders
18% of accidents involved motor vehicles


Undoubtedly, anytime a new disruptive technology comes along, consumers are more likely to be accident-prone. Society always has to endure a learning-curve before finding its groove, but the key word here is learning. The seemingly disposable nature of e-scooters and lack of immediate oversight tends to bring out the worst in people, which explains much of the backlash levied at these brands.


One such example includes the popular Instagram account “Bird Graveyard,” which takes a subversive joy in posting content depicting e-scooters being destroyed in all manner of creative ways. As of this writing, the account has over 84,000 followers and yes, I admit I am one of them. Not because I hate e-scooters, or fail to see the environmental benefits of such business models – I just happen to enjoy anarchy.


That said, I’m now resigned to this new normal. Where there used to be the sweet sound of crickets, the Venice nights are now haunted by the anxious chirps of Birds in desperate need of charging – sounding like timebombs about to explode. Their colorful lights blink in the darkness, hungry for connection. They need us to survive… for now. But what happens when they become autonomous? Who will ride who? And will Birds create an Instagram account called “HUMAN GRAVEYARD”???


I digress…


One thing is certain: as the summer season gets underway, Birds and other e-scooters will be flocking around the world en masse. This is good for the environment and many people’s wallets – but only if you don’t end up in the ER. So if you’re going to be zipping around these next few months, please wear a helmet, don’t share rides no matter how cute it may be, and for the love of sweet baby Jesus, don’t be wasted. All of our lives hang in the balance…