The good and the bad that the electric scooters brought us
Suddenly, thousands of these devices appeared in Latin America last year, sent by "micro-mobility" platforms like the American startups Bird, Lime and Scoot, the Mexican Grin or the Brazilian Yellow.
For about half a dollar, plus 10 cents a minute, anyone with a smartphone and a bank card can climb up and leave behind the traffic of some of the world's most bottled cities.
Another major advantage, according to their fans: scooters offer a clean transport option in places with high levels of pollution. But critics say these minivans only make road chaos worse.
In Mexico City, with more than 20 million people and nearly five million cars, a man survived in March when he was hit by a car as he drove a scooter in the opposite direction through a central neighborhood.
Another similar accident occurred during the early hours of the morning killed a man in the tourist Zona Rosa. In Lima, a woman sustained fractures after being hit by one of these vehicles on the sidewalk in April. In Sao Paulo, from January to May, 125 people were run over. The problems for these vehicles, which reach up to 40 km/h, were just beginning.
As in Europe and the United States, where they arrived first, in Mexico City, Lima, Bogotá and Sao Paulo there are complaints because skateboards circulate on sidewalks and are parked without any control, blocking the passage of pedestrians and other vehicles.
Some of the protests were escalating: in Mexico City, neighbors crossed out the code that allows users to unlock them and immobilized others with stickers bearing the legend "aggressor agent," while in Lima a person threw a scooter on a cliff that blocked the passage.
"Part of the problem in this city is that nobody respects anything," says Oscar Barrio, a 44-year-old Mexico City resident, shortly after leaving his scooter, also known as the "devil's scooter," "well parked" on the sidewalk in downtown Roma. "Let it be seen, let it not get anyone in trouble".
Opportunity for expansion
Scooter companies have seen an expansion opportunity in Latin America. Lime announced that in early July it will begin operations in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in addition to Buenos Aires and Lima. Mexico's Grin joined forces with Brazil's Yellow to strengthen its presence in the region.
Scooters make it easier to move at peak hours in Latin American cities, which occupy three of the top five places (Bogota, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo) in the list of cities with the worst traffic in the world, according to the specialized firm Inrix.
Meanwhile, a growing middle class in the region has access to cell phones and a means of virtual payment. But conflicts and accidents have forced city authorities to issue guidelines for skateboarding operations.
The first thing "is how we can implement mobility of scooters and bicycles, but at the same time ensure the safety of people who use these vehicles," says Ivan de la Lanza, a specialist at WRI, an institution that helps different cities address issues such as sustainable mobility.
"The environment of road insecurity around (the scooter), the high speeds, the lack of regulation in motor vehicles, the lack of safe infrastructure, is what is generating most accidents".
A little bit of culture
In Mexico City, the authorities ordered that, like bicycles, scooters circulate on bike paths or in the vehicle stream and recommended the use of helmets. In addition, they set limits on the number of units each operator can have and established a payment to be made to the capital for each skateboard. For example, both Lime and Grin can have up to 1,750 units.
"We think ( scooters ) are good because they encourage non-motorized travel. We thought to regulate them was the best alternative," says Fernanda Rivera, Mexico City's director general of road safety.
Only in April, Peruvian authorities banned skateboarding on pedestrian streets and set a speed limit of 20 km/h. In Bogotá, the government issued similar rules in addition to the mandatory use of helmets for users.
In Brazil, the government limited speed to 6 km/h in pedestrian areas and 20 km/h on roads designed for cyclists.
Despite the rules, scooter enthusiasts in Mexico City are accustomed to conflicts with motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists, and simply ask for more education among the population.
"Unfortunately we need a little bit of culture," says Joaquín Ramos, a 33-year-old engineer who collects and recharges scooters to earn about 30 pesos (1.50 dollars) each. Suddenly, the same people see it and throw it in the middle of the street."