They litter the sidewalks, trails, lawns, and streets like fallen soldiers after a horrendous battle. Graveyards of dark green, and lime green, and some shade of green in between. Purple, orange, silver, and pink, each color vibrantly bright, designed to draw the eye. They’re haphazardly discarded, uncaringly dropped wherever was convenient, their riders long gone, never to be seen again. They’ve been used and abused, ridden hard and fast, then dropped in random spots awaiting the next rider, or the agent of the rental company who will allegedly come by to collect them at some point.
The electric scooters of Berlin, Germany are a blemish on the very soul of this vibrant, clean, and happy city. The rental companies are many, all striving for a piece of the rental scooter market, and the winners of their consumer battles are evident in the quantity of the dead soldiers they’ve left neglected. Many of the scooters are unrideable, batteries dead or parts broken, and they sit forgotten all over the city. One would assume that the rental companies would come by every night to gather their apparatuses, charge them, repair them, and then deposit them in the spots where they’re most likely to be rented, but this doesn’t seem to happen, at least not often enough. Scooters that were dead one day are often in the same place the next day, still dead and unrentable.
The scooter companies are responsible for only a small slice of this rather large blame-pie, though. The renters of these scooters themselves are awful, often leaving their rental rides in the most obscene places, blocking sidewalks and even streets, leaning them against light poles instead of using their built-in stands so that a wind, or a brush from a passerby, or gravity itself knocks them to the ground. They take the scooters into the forbidden zones and drop them in the middle of squares, on steps, or on the grass of parks. I can’t help but feel these soulless miscreants who leave these scooters in such selfish fashion are the same people who smoke cigarettes in public places and drop their butts on the street. Egoistic, feral reprobates who are a stain on society. The riders also apparently think they’re invincible and operating in the confines of a controlled racetrack. They often ignore the bike lanes where the scooters are supposed to operate, and instead speed down sidewalks, zig-zagging around pedestrians, or zipping across streets forcing motorists to swerve or brake. It’s barely-controlled chaos, and the security of being a pedestrian on what should be a safe sidewalk is nullified by the multitude of near-misses that happen regularly.
The city itself shares some of the blame as well. They haven’t adopted enough rules and laws to force the scooter companies to compel good behavior from their users. As an example, Stockholm also has a large number of rental electric scooters, but they’ve implemented no-ride and no-park zones all over the city, areas where the scooters are GPS forbidden, where the top speed is capped at walking speed, and where you can’t end your ride. The scooter companies in Stockholm—many of the same ones that are in Berlin—make you take a picture of your scooter parked safely and correctly before you can end your ride, and until you do so, the rental fee clock ticks away. Berlin doesn’t require that. Berlin has a few of the zones where you aren’t able to end your ride, but they are too few, and that token effort seems to be the only one they’ve taken to control the lawless circus of the scooter market. Berlin is the wild west of the scooter frontier, and they’ve lost all control of order and allowed the city to descend into scooter chaos.
As bad as the scourge of scooters in Berlin is, I can’t be too mad. The scooters themselves are unquestionably fun and a blast to ride. With the wide array of market competition, prices are low and deals can be found, and the scooters are a very good way of getting around the sprawling city quickly and enjoyably, feeling the wind on your face and the exhilaration of the 20 KPH+ zip down the bike lane or the sidewalk. By implementing a few laws and fines for non-compliance, Berlin could easily clean up the scooter scourge while maintaining what is, without a doubt, the most enjoyable way to travel around the city.