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How Electric Scooters Are Reshaping Cities

The scene in Santa Monica, where scooter-mania began.

The scene in Santa Monica, where scooter-mania began.

Photographer: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

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One of the biggest stories in technology this year is the exploding popularity of Bird, Lime, Skip, Spin and Scoot. They’re all electric scooter-rental services, and their vehicles are suddenly buzzing along city streets and sidewalks around the world. These startups allow riders to locate and unlock scooters with an app. When they reach their destination, they just walk away. Some drivers and pedestrians see the scooters as dangerous contrivances that must be stopped, while some urban planners consider them, along with bikes, the future of city transport.

Cars often aren’t the quickest way to travel in dense, urban areas. Many cities looked to bicycle-sharing services and bike lanes as a better option for shorter trips and as a way to reduce carbon emissions. Electric scooters, which can cost less than $2 per ride, are an offshoot of that. Investors looking for the next Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc., the app-based car-hailing services, are adding to scooter-mania by pouring money into companies like Bird and Lime, touching off a city-by-city race to become the premier scooter brand. Not to be left behind, even Uber and Lyft are launching competing scooter businesses.