E-Scooters, Discrimination and the Urban Metropolis
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Written by Paul Addae & Shaun Danquah Jan 25, 2022

Categories: Blog, CR Blogs, Literature Reviews

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In many ways, e-scooters, in light of COVID-19 and people’s wish to avoid crowded public transport and be outside in the open air, have been heralded as a commodity providing a number of solutions in the current context. With Transport for London (TfL) aware of this shift in 2021, and the need to adapt to facilitate the e-scooter revolution, they allowed three e-scooter hire companies, Lime from San Francisco, Tier from Germany and Dott from the Netherlands to operate within London, with Lime being in 130 countries.

E-scooter usage in London’s urban metropolis among young commuters is catching on however, it is also regarded with caution among a significant segment of society. An article in Autocar in July 2021 entitled “E-scooters: the future of city transport, or an urban menace?” even queried precisely whom e-scooters are pitched at, yet when one ventures into the urban locale, not only in the UK but also globally, there is no doubt as to the demographic who are becoming inclined to use e-scooters.

Over the last 18 months, Black youth can be seen zooming around both the urban locale and within the urban metropolis on products that bolster sustainability. Although heralded as the icon of active transport, renewable transport sustainability and carbon-free transport, once again discrimination has merely transferred over to this new commodity, with more young Black men being stopped and searched while on these news modes of transport.

This further explains why climate change and environmental concerns have not gained popularity within the urban locale as much as other issues around police brutality. Police brutality and harassment is tangible reality and regular occurrence, whereas climate concerns are not seen as an immediate threat. E-scooter companies, like environmental movements, have sought to distance themselves from these communities, even though they are avid users of their products which are touted as symbolising the carbon-free micro-mobility transport zeitgeist.

While some of the Royal Parks in London have banned e-scooter use as they “disturb the peace and ambience of the green spaces”, others may regard it as a euphemism for exacerbating spatial segregation. Although Richmond Park also adds that the “speed and stealth of the scooters presents an unacceptable risk to pedestrians”.

Symbol of Youth Subculture

Conversely, we have also seen that these items have become symbolic of aspects and elements of urban youth subculture, and ‘trap-life’ culture, along with ski masks and Gucci pouches while on SnapChat or Instagram. This link between youth subculture and e-scooters requires more unearthing and analysis. Black men who are not involved in crime, yet represent the urban attire in their clothing, are being stopped while on their way to work, college, etc.

E-scooters are an affordable option for low-income families. Yet it is becoming embroiled with trap-life iconography and this image may actually be one that the e-scooter industry may not necessarily be happy with. Simultaneously, they’ll be hoping that e-scooters represent a move towards sustainable urban environments and low-carbon micro-mobility transport over cars.

Chen and Tan (2019) have highlighted that in Singapore a similar phenomenon has occurred, as e-scooters become a symbol of a new subculture wherein young men customise their e-scooters as expressions of hypermasculinity, individuality and independence. They have become outlets for adaptation, modification and tinkering.

Is it going to get to a situation where e-scooters require tighter regulation and licensing? Some e-scooter companies, such as Bird and Tier Mobility, have been found to rarely utilise their different social media platforms, including Instagram and Twitter, to promote safe riding practices (Dormanesh et al., 2020). This is despite social media being an important means by which public health interventions and messages can be conveyed to increase safety.

Moftakhar et al (2021) have noted that with the increase in e-scooter usage in cities such as Vienna, there has also been an increase in e-scooter related injuries. As a result of the seriousness of many of these injuries, the wearing of helmets while using e-scooters has largely been made mandatory.

Potential Hazards and Scaremongering

In countries including Singapore, where e-scooter subculture has taken hold and the authorities have been slow to keep up, a spate of fatal accidents and battery fires led to strict government regulation, including annual inspections, weight restrictions, fire safety requirements and compulsory registration (Chen and Tan, 2019). Enforcement officers keep a keen eye on e-scooters to ensure that users are complying with the regulations. While the Senior Minister for Transport announced that if there was no improvement in the behaviour of e-scooter riders, a complete ban on e-scooters would come into effect.

This media frenzy and scaremongering of the young Black male has been visited before as per Brixton in 1982. Plus, there’s the fear around such conurbations, and Stanley Cohen (2002 [1972]), one of the famous ‘Three Cohens’ of subcultural theory, looked at moral panic and how mainstream culture constructs logics of social control. Cohen explained that social reactions to subcultures often went further than simply labelling young people as outsiders in order to legitimise intervention; therefore some people’s collective acts of deviant behaviour were elevated to societal-level moral panics.

In his book ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics’, Stanley Cohen laid out a theory of moral panic development. The process (Cohen, 2002: 1), a condition, episode, person, or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by mass media.

E-scooter proliferation has been witnessed around the world over the last few years with exceptional growth and ingenious innovation. Crowded public transport, hard to maintain cars, limited car-parking and heavy traffic make e-scooters particularly appealing in a megacity such as London.

The fact that e-scooters are becoming inconspicuous in over 250 countries indicates that a large swathe of people in the urban space requires them. Particularly where pollution and air quality are major concerns across the urban landscape, testifying to how this is no mere gimmick of the current zeitgeist. Yet, although a global consumer trend, they are fraught with a range of issues related to regulation, illegal use, illicit use, billion-pound industry interests and discrimination.

E-scooters now, as we approach the end of 2021 and are about to embark into 2022, are smarter, faster and more powerful. E-scooters are also emerging as an icon of sustainability and micro-mobility, with swappable batteries and charging points bolstering this image, by reducing the scooter’s environmental ‘tyreprint’. E-scooters, alongside e-bikes, are also particularly useful to workers within the gig economy as they are accessible, simple and easy to maintain.

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References
  • Chen, J. and Tan, S. (2019). “E-Scooters Are the Hot Rods and Harleys of Singaporean Youth.” Vice, 10th October 2019. Accessed Online December 2021: E-Scooters Are the Hot Rods and Harleys of Singaporean Youth (vice.com).
  • Cohen, A. (1955) Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang. Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press.
  • Cohen, P. (1972) “Sub-Cultural Conflict and Working-Class Community.” Working Papers in Cultural Studies, no.2 (Spring), CCCS. University of Birmingham.
  • Cohen, S. (1972) Folk Devils and Moral Panics. London: Penguin.
  • Dormanesh, A., Majmundar, A., Allem, J.P. (2020). “Follow-Up Investigation on the Promotional Practices of Electric Scooter Companies: Content Analysis of Posts on Instagram and Twitter.” JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, January-March, 6(1). Accessed Online December 2021: Follow-Up Investigation on the Promotional Practices of Electric Scooter Companies: Content Analysis of Posts on Instagram and Twitter (nih.gov).
  • Moftakhar, T., Wanzel, M., Vojscik, A., Kralinger, F., Mousavi, M., Hajdu, S., Aldrian, S. And Starlinger, J. (2021). “Incidence and Severity of Electric Scooter Related Injuries After Introduction of an Urban Rental Programme in Vienna: a retrospective multicentre study.” Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery, 141, 1207-13. Accessed Online December 2021: Incidence and severity of electric scooter related injuries after the introduction of an urban rental programme in Vienna: a retrospective multicentre study | SpringerLink.
  • Rose, J., Schellong, D., Schaetzberger, C. and Jill, J. (2020). “How E-Scooters Can Win a Place in Urban Transport.” BCG. Accessed Online December 2021: How E-Scooters Can Win a Place in Urban Transport | BCG.
 

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