E-bikes can be a really good idea, but, when you’re in a decidedly urban setting, they can still be cumbersome and less than agile, which is never good when there are large amounts of cars and people around. The better solution is something which is smaller, less cumbersome, and easier to control and manoeuvre; interestingly, that solution also happens to be something that first came into existence about a century ago. Lightweight, compact, 2 wheels, a motor, and an easy, comfortable standing position: it’s the e-scooter.
By definition, an e-scooter is a traditional scooter (i.e. a deck for standing, handlebars for steering, and 2 wheels) powered by an electric motor. As for the word itself, it can be broken down into 2 components: the prefix e and the word scooter. As with other electrical devices, such as the e-car and e-bike, the e in e-scooter is simply a shortening of the word electrical, denoting that a machine was being powered by electricity either instead of or along with more traditional methods; the word shortening was first used in this capacity in the 22 November, 1969 edition of the Chicago Daily Defender, which mentioned that: “ Ford Motor Company’s electric car… The E-Car was designed as a test bed.” As for the main term, scooter, essentially meaning ‘one who goes quickly’, it originated as the verb scoot, which has an unknown origin, but is thought to have a nautical slang origin, considering that it was first used in a letter by a Capt. Tyrrell in The Annual Register of 1759, stating that: “The largest frigate being troublesome, I gave him a few of my lower deck pills and set him a scooting like a lusty fellow, and he never returned to the action again.” As a noun, scooter (with its original meaning) was first used around 1825 to refer to someone who goes in a hurried manner or “scoots”, as noted in English philologist Robert Forby’s work, The Vocabulary of East Anglia, where he states that the term means: “ ‘To run like scooter,’ i.e. very nimbly.”
Much like the origin of the word scoot, we aren’t too sure of the origin of the vehicle either. Given that scooters are fairly easy to make – initially being just wheelsets attached to a board and having some type of handle – and with them sharing many similarities with the designs of pioneer bicycle-maker Denis Johnson, all that we can say for sure is that they are at least a century old. Looking at both the first usage of the vehicle terms scooter – 21 February 1919, with The London Times writing: “The ‘scooter’ we knew before the war was a new terror to the pavement.” – and motor scooter – The Autocar magazine recorded in a 20 January, 1917 issue that: “ For some months past it has been known in this country that the ‘scooter’ in America has developed into something rather beyond the child’s plaything so popular in the British Isles. Until quite recently, however, the American motor-driven ‘scooter’ has not been seen in London.” – the familiarity with scooters at the time of writing (indicating their age) is evident.
Specifically considering our term, the first models of electric-powered scooters were produced by the Autoped Company of Long Island City, New York from 1915 to 1921, as well as by Krupp in Germany from 1919 to 1922. Much like the e-bike and electric car, which were invented, largely forgotten, and have found a new application, e-scooters, thanks also to the advent of stronger and more compact batteries and motors, have become the personal vehicle du jour for those who are looking for fast, safe, compact, and relatively inexpensive mobility, with companies like Bird and Lime even going as far as offering e-scooters alongside urban bicycle-sharing facilities.
Of course, with new solutions come new problems, most of which revolve around their classification. On one hand, due to their speed, they can conceivably pose a problem to people in solely pedestrian areas. Considering the regulations regarding what would pass for usage in a bike lane, such as speed, safety, and seating requirements, it doesn’t really classify for usage in bike lanes. Finally, due to their lack of safety features, mirrors and signals, they’re far from adequate for public road use. In other words, they would be a great overall solution for urban areas, if we could just figure out how to properly use them and regulate their usage.