By Millie Muroi
Micromobility may be the way forward as sustainability comes to the forefront of global policy agendas, but small changes in transportation can be seen at a local and consumer level.
Last week, California-based electric scooter company Bird listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
The company was valued at $2.3 billion in a merger deal with special-purpose acquisition company Switchback II Corporation.
But it’s not just in the United States that electric scooters seem to be proliferating.
Masters of Financial Planning student Nicholas Walters initially bought his e-scooter for its fun factor but said there were many practical benefits.
“I ride this every single day to work, saving money on parking, car stuff, and potentially public transport as well,” Mr. Walters told Pelican.
Mr. Walters purchased his e-scooter for about $480 on eBay in March 2021.
That price reflects a 25 per cent discount resulting from a deal with AfterPay.
“I was considering an electric bike as well but the price was just getting way too high.”
Mr. Walters’ e-scooter is a Xiaomi Mi 1S.
The model has a maximum speed of 30 km/h and a range of 30 km, taking five hours to charge fully.
Mr. Walters, who lives in Northbridge and works in Subiaco, uses his e-scooter for daily commutes.
“If I have to ride 30 km to work, I can easily charge it up during the day and go home,” he said.
“It’s probably less exercise than using a bicycle but if you don’t want to get all sweaty and gross and bring a change of clothes, that’s where this is perfect.”
He also said running errands with the e-scooter was faster than walking, cheaper than driving, and fun.
“Of course, I’m not going to drive into the city because I have to pay for parking,” he said.
“Walking to Target in the middle of Forrest Chase takes 15 to 20 minutes; now with this, it’s five minutes and I’m having a good time while I’m at it.”
Mr. Walters said riding his e-scooter was also cheaper than using public transport, with one-zone travel typically costing him $7 a day.
The e-scooter can be locked outside with a bike lock or folded up and taken indoors.
Mr. Walters bought his e-scooter after seeing a friend using one, and said in turn, two of his own friends were now trying to order one.
“I think it will keep on growing, it just makes sense,” Mr. Walters said.
Mr. Walters, who is willing to give anyone – including your correspondent – a spin on his e-scooter, said its novelty factor meant people of all ages often came up to ask him about it.
“It brings a lot of joy to other people,” he said.
Mr. Walters has also discovered new places in his neighbourhood in using his e-scooter for leisure purposes.
“Often if I’m really bored, I’ll just go for a scoot around the place,” he said.
“You always find new things like horse stables from a hundred years ago around inner-city houses in Mount Lawley.”
Mr. Walters said there were numerous accessories on the market such as bigger battery packs and rearview mirrors, but that his costs were limited.
“There’s electricity and I’ll eventually have to get new tyres,” he said.
One limitation of e-scooters is that they cannot be used in rainy weather.
Another is that they cannot be ridden one-handed.
“If you’re shopping somewhere, you either need to bring some sort of backpack or hang it on the handle,” Mr. Walters said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Walters said the benefits were substantial and that there was an e-scooter for everyone.
“Everyone should own one,” he said.
“It makes so many things so much more accessible.”
Jason Gunawan and Chuan Soon also own e-scooters, with the former telling Pelican he had “roped three people” into buying the micro mobility device since purchasing one in January 2021.
Mr. Gunawan is in his final year studying computer science and finance and Mr. Soon recently completed his degree in marketing and finance.
Mr. Soon said the primary reason for purchasing his e-scooter was convenience.
“Sometimes I have to park at E-Zone (at UWA) and I have to walk all the way to Business School.”
Mr. Gunawan bought his scooter off Anaconda as a toy but said that it made his life more convenient.
“I chuck it in my boot, park at St. Cat’s, and don’t have to pay for parking, going back and forth throughout the day,” he said.
“I haven’t paid for parking in a while.”
Mr. Gunawan and Mr. Soon said e-scooters cost about $699 but that they managed to acquire theirs for about $390 each after searching for discounts.
Mr. Soon has the same model as Mr. Walters, while Mr. Gunawan has the Reid E4.
E-scooters are also a way through which students can improve and manage their mental and physical health.
Mr. Soon said he often rode his e-scooter around his suburb whenever he got stressed and Mr. Gunawan said it was useful for getting to his gym which was about one kilometre from where he lived.
Mr. Soon said the battery might start deteriorating after two to three years, but that it was similar to how other devices like mobile phones may begin having lower battery life after repeated charging.
Mr. Gunawan said the only maintenance cost he anticipated in the next year was replacing the tyres.
Asked about any major cons of using e-scooters, Mr. Soon and Mr. Gunawan said it was simply the weird looks they got from some people, particularly with Mr. Gunawan’s e-scooter having LED lights which he said made him look “like a moving Christmas tree” at night.
However, Mr. Soon said e-scooters would probably become more popular over time.
“If you were to ask me to buy an e-scooter two or three years back, I would have said no because it used to cost upwards of $1000,” he said.
“But the price (of e-scooters) has really gone down in the past few years.”
“I’m starting to notice more and more people using e-scooters around uni,” Mr. Soon said.
Mr. Soon said one limitation to the proliferation of e-scooters would be regulation.
In WA, e-scooters can only be ridden on low-speed public roads and paths if they travel at or below 10 km/h with a power output not exceeding 200 watts.
Aside from limiting the fun factor, Mr. Gunawan added that moving at lower speeds made the e-scooters slightly harder to control, akin to riding a bike.
Asked who they would recommend e-scooters to, Mr. Soon said “freshers”.
“That’s going to be most useful for you because you have three years to make use of your investment.”
They said it would be particularly useful for students studying majors that required them to go from one end of campus to the other.
A word with Bird
As governments look for ways to make travel more sustainable, micromobility devices such as e-scooters may play a role.
Bird is an e-scooter company that offers shared e-scooter programs.
A spokesperson from the company told Pelican that they could bring significant environmental, economic, and mobility benefits.
That includes combating congestion and pollution created by excessive use of private motor vehicles, as well as promoting equity.
“Bird believes providing inclusive access to all areas, provides communities with better economic mobility and builds social connectedness, including for those in regional or socio-economically disadvantaged areas,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson also said that they were developing technologies for shared scooters that would allow them to place limits on the speed of e-scooters in particular geographical zones.
However, they said one constraint they faced in expanding to Perth was regulation.
“Current e-scooter rules and regulations do not permit the use of e-scooters on public roads and paths in WA,” they said.
“State governments across Australia are currently reviewing their rules and regulations following recent regulatory recommendations made by the National Transportation Commission.”