Why I Commute with an Electric 🛴 Scooter
For the last several months, I’ve been commuting with an electric scooter.
It started as a way to reduce my carbon footprint, but in the process I’m saving an average of $30 and 30 minutes each day — and having more fun, too.
Here’s why I switched up my commute, and how I decided to buy an electric scooter.
Who Am I?
I lead strategy for Profitero, a venture-backed ecommerce analytics company. I’m the proud husband of Meghan Keaney Anderson, a marketing executive at Hubspot (currently ranked #6 on the Green Commute leaderboard!) and proud father of Evelyn, who recently became the first in our family to drive an electric car. We live in Somerville, and I work in downtown Boston.
Why a Greener Commute?
Since the release last October of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that estimates that mankind has 12 years to limit global warming to a 1.5C increase, I’ve been looking for ways to make a personal impact.
Along with converting to renewable energy and choosing local and plant-based foods more often, greening one’s commute kept appearing near the top of lists of ways individuals can reduce their carbon footprint, like this list from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
But it was ultimately a combination of environmental and practical considerations that finally prompted me to change.
We live on Prospect Hill in Somerville, near where the new Union Square T stop will be located as the Green Line Extension (GLX) project progresses. The GLX and the broader Union Square redevelopment are exciting, but for now, public transit options are limited, and construction and population growth are increasing congestion.
For the last few years, I commuted with Uber and Lyft. While door-to-door service is convenient, my 3.2 mile commute was averaging 45–60 minutes each way. My daily costs were $30-$50 — pretty expensive, but not drastically more expensive than renting a parking spot near my office.
This commute typically routed me on Monsignor O’Brien Highway, past a Mercedes dealership with a helipad on its roof. I think I had noticed the helicopter before but never really thought about it.
One evening early this year, I saw the helicopter take off from the car dealership. It hovered for a moment, then angled its nose slightly down and sped away.
Minutes went by, and I had barely moved. Neither had the cars around me.
Everywhere I looked I saw vehicles designed for six or more people, but occupied by just one or two. Idling and crawling. Crawling, and idling.
I don’t mean to single out any particular polluter or pollution purveyor in this post.
But, that day, I couldn’t help but imagine the helicopter’s occupants amusedly tapping their fingers together and faintly smiling as they hurtled over city arteries clogged with high-emission cars they had sold us to buy a high-emission helicopter to avoid all that congestion.
Though I had heard the phrase many times, it wasn’t until that moment that I really understood that I wasn’t “stuck in traffic” — I was traffic.
My commute wasn’t sustainable, it wasn’t working for me, and I was adding to the congestion affecting all of us. Time to change.
Why an Electric Scooter?
As I started to rethink my commute, I had two basic criteria:
- Minimize my carbon footprint
- Don’t be traffic
I did not spend much time researching helicopters, despite how effective I had seen they could be for avoiding traffic.
An electric car (like Evelyn’s) would be greener than Lyft but costly to buy, park, insure, and maintain. We’re a one-car family, and in 3.5 years we’ve logged just 12,000 miles on that car. If we buy another car one day, it will be electric. But for my 3.2 mile commute? A car was excessive. And, I would still be traffic.
But, why a scooter? Why not a bike or another personal electric vehicle like an e-bike, electric skateboard, or unicycle?
Any of those could have been a reasonable choice for many people, and personal preference counts for a lot. Among the reasons electric scooters appealed to me:
- Portability & storage — Most electric scooters fold, and some are small and lightweight enough to bring on a train or a bus. I keep mine indoors at home and under my desk at the office.
- Power — I was intrigued by the ability to climb hills and travel miles without breaking a sweat.
- Safety & stability — While e-skateboards and unicycles also look fun (and I see more and more of them on my commute), I thought the learning curve would be shorter on a scooter and that the handlebar and optional suspension would keep me safer and stabler on hills and patchy terrain.
- Fun — My main considerations were functional, but the dockless scooters I had ridden were pretty fun.
As I’ve gotten more experienced with electric scooters, I’ve learned that there are also scenarios for which they aren’t a great fit.
If burning calories is a priority for your commute, walking, biking, or kick scooters are better choices. Electric scooting can be exhilarating, but it’s not exactly exercise.
Most electric scooters also aren’t waterproof, so you’ll probably need an alternative on days where heavy rain or pooling water are expected. Range and speed are likely to deteriorate in colder temperatures, too, so scooting may not be an option during some winter months, even if the roads are clear.
Buying vs. Renting
I had experience with dockless rental services like Bird and Lime from visiting Denver, Phoenix, and Ft. Lauderdale — but I knew they weren’t available in Boston, and that Somerville and Cambridge had sent some of the rental services packing last Fall for arriving unannounced and without permits.
Since renting wasn’t a reliable option, I began to research buying an electric scooter instead and saw compelling benefits for both riders and the community.
Among the benefits of ownership (versus dockless sharing) for riders:
- Scooter is reliably available at home and workplace
- Helmet always available
- Can select the right vehicle for specific needs and customize with accessories
- Lower long-term costs
Benefits of ownership for communities:
- One less car on the road during rush hours
- Minimal sidewalk clutter
- More responsible riders
As a commuter, it was clear that owning a scooter would be a better option than renting.
And while dockless sharing services have gotten most of the mainstream attention, new electric scooters for sale by Segway Ninebot, Boosted, and Bird reflect growing demand for scooters that riders can own, not rent.
Picking a Scooter
While the category of electric scooters for purchase is still relatively new, I discovered there are already plenty of options available to meet diverse needs and budgets and some great resources to help you research and make a decision.
For instance, the electric scooter community on Reddit produced this handy buyer’s guide, and Electrek’s Micah Toll (a Cantabrigian) frequently reviews electric scooters and other personal electric vehicles.
As you research, it’s easy to get lost comparing features and specs. My advice is to focus on the distance and terrain you have to travel and how portable you’d like the scooter to be.
If you’re traveling longer distances, over potholed or poorly paved roads, or up steep hills, you may want to consider scooters with:
- Larger capacity batteries, which enable more range between charges
- Higher wattage motors or dual motors, which enable a scooter to climb higher-grade hills
- Suspension and pneumatic tires, which can ensure a safe and smooth ride over rougher terrain
Be aware that these types of performance-enhancing features typically increase both the price and the weight/bulk of a scooter.
For example, my scooter handles the potholes and hills in my neighborhood with ease. But it also weighs more than 70 lbs. I couldn’t bring it on a bus, and I wouldn’t want to carry it up more than two flights of stairs.
My colleague’s scooter, at 28 lbs, is much more portable. If you need a first/last mile complement to a bus, train, or boat commute, you will want something compact and easy to roll or carry.
When you’re ready to buy, you’ll find some popular scooters on Amazon, though several of the more robust commuter-oriented options aren’t available there. There are specialist dealers like Rev Rides, eWheels, and Urban Machina that offer scooters and replacement parts, and most scooter manufacturers also have online shops you can buy from directly.
Safety & Sharing the Road
During the months I spent researching and planning my new commute, safety — mine and others’ — was my top concern. I am grateful for initiatives like Vision Zero, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries while making cities friendlier for greener transport options, and I definitely do not want to end up as a little yellow dot on a Vision Zero Crash Data Dashboard.
The few studies that have been fielded on the safety of electric scooters, like this one, have tended to focus on dockless, shared scooters versus ownership.
Thematically, the biggest safety concerns among officials and the public seem to be:
- Riders riding without helmets
- New, untrained riders having accidents
- Ambiguity about where to ride, and unsafe behaviors in shared space
After months of research and riding, my view is that safety guidelines oriented to bikers are generally good advice for electric scooter riders, too, with more caution in some cases.
A helmet is a must at all times.
My scooter came with front and tail lights built into the platform, but to increase visibility, I added a headlight on the handlebar, an accelerometer-powered brake light that clips to a backpack, and some reflective tape.
I also inserted turn signals into the handlebar grips so I can indicate turns without letting go of the handlebar.
Before riding in public, I spent an afternoon in an empty parking lot familiarizing myself with the vehicle and practicing quick stops, tight turns, and other maneuvers.
On my commute, I ride in bike lanes. I’m careful to be courteous to drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. If I have to cross an area with dense foot traffic, I step off and walk the scooter.
Perhaps most importantly, I keep my full attention on riding and my surroundings. No ear buds, phone, or other distractions.
Before hitting the roads for the first time, I was anxious about how cars and bikes would react to an electric scooter.
In reality, I’ve found cyclists to be congenial; one thanked me for riding carefully, and another very helpfully pointed out when I had a flat tire. Cars have been courteous too.
I think if we all follow the golden rule and applicable laws, odds are good we’ll continue to get along.
Responsible Scooter Ownership
Compared to renting, scooter ownership comes with a few responsibilities in addition to the benefits.
Most electric scooters’ batteries aren’t removable, so you’ll likely be charging the vehicle where you store it. Charging typically takes 2–6 hours. To avoid over-charging, which can decrease the battery’s life, you may want to use a basic outlet timer like those used for holiday lights.
Parking & Storage
You’ll probably want to park your electric scooter indoors to prevent theft, preserve battery life, and maximize performance. Your apartment or office building may have policies about where or how you can store your scooter, so check in advance.
If you need to park your scooter in a public space, I suggest locking it in a location designated for bikes.
Maintenance & Repairs
As a scooter owner, you’ll definitely need to replace, repair, or maintain something at some point.
If your scooter has pneumatic tires, I suggest ordering replacement tires and tubes sooner rather than later — with Boston’s roads, it’s a matter of when, not if, you’ll get a flat.
Most routine repairs and maintenance can be done yourself. YouTube is your friend, and if you can’t find an instructional video that covers your specific issue, you can often find another owner who can help in one of the online discussion forums.
If you still find yourself stuck, you may have luck turning to bicycle shops for help. In my case, Tom and the team at Somervelo were lifesavers when a flat tire proved especially tricky to fix.
Ambassadorship & Community-Building
If you choose to commute on an electric scooter, you’ll be on the early side of the adoption curve — though not as early as these early scooter commuters. Like it or not, you’ll be an unofficial ambassador of sorts.
Try to be mindful of how your choices and behavior affect and are perceived by other commuters, officials, and the public.
If you want to make an even bigger impact, consider volunteering with or financially supporting organizations like the Green Streets Initiative that share your values and do important work to advocate for better policies and more resources.
Finally, participate in community meetings and write to your elected officials. It’s important to listen to others’ questions and concerns, and also that legislators hear from local, everyday commuters in addition to stakeholders like dockless rideshare operators.
Get in Touch
Have questions, comments, or want to organize a ride? You can find me on Twitter @KeithAnderson.