Trying all 5 shared e-scooters in Seattle, plus a unicycle
It’s summertime in Seattle, which means we're experiencing prime e-scooter weather.
This year, the city’s Department of Transportation approved three more companies to drop thousands of shared, electric scooters around Seattle. But who’s out there actually riding them?
Looking around Seattle, from Westlake in downtown to Alki Beach, I mostly see the electric scooters parked.
Rows and rows of them, sometimes all knocked to the ground like dominos.
To find out who's riding these things, I decided to try all five different scooter brands. I started on the Burke Gilman Trail in the U-District.
The options for e-scooters in Seattle these days are: Bird, Link, Lime, Spin, and Wheels. They’re all easy to try for first timers to hop on and the scooters automatically start at slower speeds for the first ride.
Using the e-scooters requires you to download an app on your phone.
The apps show a map with nearby scooters and ideally, you can find one nearby when you need one. The apps also give instructions on safety: reminding riders to wear a helmet and to not ride on sidewalks.
When scooters first arrived in Seattle, there was a spike in accidents. But those have since come down.
The scooters I found the easiest to use were Wheels, Bird, and Link. Lime has been around for a while and they also have e-bikes you can rent. But here's a problem not just with Lime, but all of the scooters: you find a scooter on the map, you race to secure it, and for whatever reason... the scooter just won't scoot.
“Yeah, I'm still trying to download this thing all the way,” said Mike Lazendy while straddling a parked Lime scooter next to Husky Stadium. “I've been having issues."
Lazendy lives in Ravenna and was trying to get to an appointment on time.
Between the two of us, we never got the app to work on his phone. Lazendy said he typically can count on finding a working scooter.
“I like ‘em a lot,” he said.
Despite hang ups like the one Lazendy had, the city says a lot of people are riding these shared scooters.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been an average of over 6,000 scooter rides a day, according to the Department of Transportation.
But on the day I rode around, I didn't see too many other people on these shared e-scooters. What I did see is people on their own personal e-device or electric toy, like Jim Chow.
"I started out with scooters, went through six of those,” Chow said.
That’s right: he's owned 6 scooters in just a couple of years. Chow has since upgraded to one of those electric unicycles you might see zipping around.
Chow rides his electric unicycle everywhere. At least once a week, he meets up with dozens of other people who ride electric skateboards, bikes, and unicycles like his.
At night, they ride through downtown, lit up with LED lights. Chow said it feels like a parade.
"The freedom you feel, I mean, compared to a scooter,” Chow said. “Yeah, you ride and you stand with your hands — but these, you know, are like carving on asphalt, right? You just float."
There's no way to track how many of these privately owned e-toys are in Seattle, according to the city. But Chow said he's seeing way more since he first started on scooters years ago. He thinks people will make the jump like him from shared scooters to getting their own.
The Department of Transportation says the e-scooter permits last through next year, at which point they’ll determine if more scooters should be scattered around.
I personally still need more practice before trying anything too fancy.