E-Scooters: Hell On Wheels

Illustration showing young people riding electronic scooters.
Hell on wheels.

Illustration by Christoph Hitz

Race to the bottom. Bird came first. Then Lime. Since then, two other scooter-rental companies—Spin and Lyft—have jumped into the fray, and the concept has become familiar. But when the curious objects first appeared out of nowhere on downtown corners, it didn’t take long for early-adopting Hoosiers to turn the sidewalks around Monument Circle into the IMS, a kind of hipster Mad Max: Fury Road. The city eventually imposed a temporary ban to give lawmakers who had been taken by surprise much-needed time to create regulations.

But rules are meant to be broken. After a short educational grace period, the IMPD issued 34 fines during the first month of code enforcement.

Self service. The scooters, which require a mobile app, driver’s license, and credit card to rent, are readily available on just about any downtown block. Sign-up is a snap and quick escapes are a breeze on the whisper-quiet scooters—like the one a burglar used last fall after he robbed an Indy man of his wallet, laptop, and backpack.

And they’re addictive! An IMPD narcotics investigation of three suspects suggested drug dealers here are using the commercial scooters to make quick deliveries and evade police. The ubiquity of the two-wheelers means it’s hard to track the bad guys and simple for lawbreakers to stash the “getaway car.”

Ridden hard and put away wet. Despite tweeting out a ghostly photo of a scooter submerged in the Canal last September, the IMPD’s warning to respect the rules (and laws of physics) went unheeded. Two weeks later, touring rapper Lil Xan posted an Instagram video for his 5.4 million followers of buddy DJ Topgun ramping his Bird rental into the drink.

People ride e-scooters down the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.
According to an IUPUI study, the average life of a scooter used in Indianapolis is 28 days.

Rest in pieces. For those with a kink for destruction of private property, check out @BirdGraveyard on Instagram—basically a collection of Bird and Lime snuff videos.

None for the road. The scooters aren’t a substitute for a designated driver. In January, the IMPD arrested a 21-year-old man for operating a vehicle while intoxicated when he rode his Lime through a red light, causing an on-duty officer driving through the intersection to slam the brakes to avoid a collision.

Are the wheels coming off? National figures show that in 2018, riders took more trips on scooters than shared, docked bicycles. Here, results are mixed—the 5-year-old Pacers Bikeshare program is expanding to more parts of the city, but has seen a decrease in walk-up users.

Break a leg. Or sprain a wrist, like late-night talk-show host Seth Meyers. In town last December for the Big Ten Championship between Ohio State and his alma mater, Northwestern, Meyers bit the dust on a pre-game scooter ride. “Five minutes before I fell off my scooter, I sent an iPhone video to my wife of me on the scooter saying, and these are my exact words, ‘Look at me, I am young and cool,’” he told his TV audience. As the former anchor of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update might have put it, “Headline: Irony.”