LeviathanSeptember 30, 2019
Have you ridden a scooter yet? One of those new-fangled electric scooter thingies, not those little children’s ones about the size of a kneecap? All those in favour say “Aye !!” All those against say “Nay !!” The Ayes have it. No? Party vote called for!
While Wellington is well served by buses through the centre of town, they all mostly choose the one same path, and it is not a path I live on. Nor work on. So while the bustastrophe may be hurting you a lot, it has passed me by – I do not have to hub. By the time I have walked to join the bus route, I may as well keep on walking the rest of the way. But sometimes I need to get there faster than walking – and sometimes the bus is actually slower than walking. So: enter the scooter as the final link, the last mile solution to the urban transport dilemma.
So for the past week or two I’ve been riding a scooter back and forth across town, and it’s been great – mostly. I’ve tried to hire an Onzo bike on several occasions but could never get the software to allow me, so I’ve given up on that, despite them taking $20 of my money – or more – they’re just not cutting it. But the scooter is different, especially the one that uses your Uber account. Simplicity itself.
Day one: I travelled along during the day, tentatively feeling my way (a grown man having not been on a scooter or skateboard for about 40 years) and so I kept to the footpath. It was the day after that guy in Auckland had died falling off a Lime scooter after all, and no, of course I did not have a helmet. Averaging just 7km/hr on the tiny dashboard, I mingled with the few people walking my route. No one seemed to mind. I became a human walker, not a scooter wanker. Crossing roads was a little tricky – those kerb transitions that were put in a few years ago for the disabled are a boon for the tiny-wheel-enabled. Driveways with a lip of 20mm are a killer by comparison. A trip that cost me $10 in an Uber earlier that day cost me only $5 on the uber-scooter. I was hooked. Cheaper than an Uber, more fun, and no forced chat. I could talk to myself!
Day two: despite having been horrified at the sight of people zooming past me on a scooter on the road – including one going down Vivian St i.e. STATE HIGHWAY NUMBER ONE !!! on a scooter – dangerous as fuck ! – despite all that tut-tutting to myself the day before, I found that as I was heading off on my tiny-wheeled friend at Rush Hour, there were masses of people on the pavement. The footpath was no longer a safe place to be. Hence, I took to the road – to the bus lane to be precise. I upped my speed from 7kph to 18kph, which seemed to be the limit. Cars sped by at 50kph, and much to the irritation of those in a bus behind me, I could not get out of the way. I could not get into the car lane and let the bus undertake me from the left. Nor could i go into the gutter and let the bus overtake me from the right. Either would have been certain death… There were no convenient lay-bys or driveways where I could safely hole up or turn into a pedestrian. There was no option other than to continue along Lambton Quay, finger pressing flat down as max speed was attained, until the next bus stop was passed – well, he stopped, and I passed. I live to tell the tale. You sit there, transfixed with excitement. $5.40 a pop for my (short) life story.
Day three: now having got more confident on the road, I became a mixture of both pedestrian and road-user. I was on the footpath one minute, I veered onto the road the next. Those yellow-studded disabled crossing thingies became a beacon for where my journey could go to next. I kept off the main road and became a Back Street Boy. I was In Sync with the modern world. My youth was regained. I sped up to 15kph on the pavement, not quite weaving in and out of the pedestrian flow, but I could change from one form to another. I became a shape-shifter, a succubus, a chameleon of the night and day. Approaching a pedestrian crossing, I faced the age-old dilemma : what am I doing here? Am I like a car on the road, beholden by red lights? Or do I get off and walk across the intersection, becoming once more as one with the bi-pedal movers that I once was, before I became bi-circular? Bi-curious? I was like that Roller Girl from Almost Famous, perpetually in motion, a vision in leg-warmers and hot-pants (she, not me). In fact, I was almost Famous in an unpleasant manner, getting almost run over while I shape shifted from pedestrian stroller to tiny dancer all in the one crossing point, and was spotted by a friend who said he noticed me break several laws of the jungle all in the one intersection. I had indeed become an animal on wheels, albeit tiny ones. $5.20 and life scoots on.
And so it goes. I couldn’t find a uber Jump the next day, so I hired a Flamingo instead in order to get my fix – and it was not as good. Software was buggy. Tried two or three Flamingos before I could successfully log on. Sort your software out or you’ll go bust !
Some observations: its a fun new technology and its here to stay. But the terrain is not suited to it – we really need a safer option than footpath, bus lane, or mingle with the killer vans. The impulse to speed is way too easy – another tiny surge through your thumb can take you from quiet meek and mild Clarke Kent, to a super speeding Superman in the flash of an eye and that’s unsettling for the true bipedal walker. Scooters really don’t belong in bus lanes at all, but is there any option at present? Using the scooter, there is limited ability to signal your intentions. There are no indicators, obviously, but even the old bicycle trick of extending an arm is tricky on a scooter, as that means controlling the direction of the damn thing with just one hand, and it skitters about when you do that, risking a spectacular and potentially skull-splitting fall. There’s no centripetal motion keeping you upright – they’re fun alright, but they could easily turn into a death trap if you blink at the wrong time.
I’ll vote for any candidate who campaigns to put scooter lanes into Wellington CBD..!