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Urban waterways are under siege by a new invasive species: e-scooters

Urban waterways are under siege by a new invasive species: e-scooters
[Photo: Oleg Elkov/iStock]

E-scooters are billed as environmental saviors–a low-emissions alternative to short trips by car, and a much more expedient one than your own two feet. But in some cities, they’re becoming another form of pollution.

In places like Oakland, Los Angeles, and Portland, people have become so fed up with the plastic scooters–distributed liberally on sidewalks by companies like Bird and Lime–that they’ve taken to throwing them into lakes and rivers, and in the case of Los Angeles, the ocean. In Oakland, the New York Times reporter Jack Nicas spotted a man fishing scooters out of Lake Merritt, one of the oldest wildlife refuges in North America and an important sanctuary for actual birds; he reportedly pulled out 12 in one day, and received a small monetary reward from Bird for each. The Lake Merritt Institute’s director, according to Slate, has met with the scooter companies to express concern about the damage the sunken scooters could be doing to the natural environment.

Such concerns are becoming widespread, and spell trouble not only for waterways, but for the companies. Is it really a sustainable business model if a number of your products end up hurled into a lake in frustration? What does that say about target-audience satisfaction?

For the time being, Slate reports, companies like Bird and Lime seem to be leaning on their cushion of venture capital funding to absorb the losses of scooter vandalism and malfunction (the scooters themselves are not terribly durable). But in the meantime, activists like the founder of the Portland blog Scooters in the River PDX, which documents micro-transit options tossed into the Willamette, would like to encourage people to vent their frustration in less environmentally ruinous ways. “There’s a billion better ways to fight the man,” he told Slate.

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