E-scooters don’t always get an easy ride. Rolling into cities around the world, the ride-share electric scooters have been damaged, defaced and destroyed in a vast variety of ways, including being knocked over like dominoes, smashed, thrown down stairs and off buildings, buried in sand, left dangling from trees, stolen, disassembled and tossed into lakes, oceans, rivers, swimming pools and fountains.
They’ve been snapped in half in Baltimore, hacked to play dirty messages in Australia, doused in oil in Indianapolis, defecated on in San Francisco.
And still, Edmonton managed to do something different.
Edmonton police are currently investigating “multiple mischief reports” around a rash of scooter-burnings that both the city’s e-scooter companies, Bird and Lime, say is exceptional – even if some level of broader scooter destruction is not.
“In a lot of markets there’s mischief going on, so Edmonton’s not unique in that respect. The difference is that it was pretty acute in Edmonton,” said Bird Canada chief executive officer Stewart Lyons. “In Calgary, we had the odd troublemaker throwing scooters into the river or whatever, and in Montreal, we had the odd thing here and there. But nothing to the level of Edmonton.”
Lime spokesperson Alex Youn confirmed that his company’s scooters had been targeted as well, and that police are investigating.
“Lime takes vandalism seriously and will pursue appropriate legal action against those that damage or vandalize our property," Mr. Youn said in a written statement.
E-scooters arrived in Edmonton in August to curiosity and excitement and, as in other markets, soon sparked debates about safety, sidewalk usage, parking and, more broadly, whether the scooters are #fun or #annoying.
Barely a week into their arrival, two of the scooters were dumped into the wading pool at the Alberta Legislature, prompting the closing of the pool for water testing and leading more than one Edmontonian to reflect that, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”
But Mr. Lyons says the situation escalated to an unusual extent only when large numbers of scooters were found vandalized in concentrated areas, all with the same specific kind of damage.
“It was more about a month ago we started to notice a bunch of our scooters were getting burned, melted almost, on the top,” Mr. Lyons said. “And it started happening in large clumps, and they started happening one after the other.”
Mr. Lyons said he didn’t know exactly how many scooters had been vandalized this way, but that it was “a surprising number” – an outlier even in a world where scooter destruction is recorded gleefully to hundreds of thousands of followers on the Instagram account Bird Graveyard, and “scooter rage,” as Forbes magazine recently noted, “is a thing now.”
Mr. Lyons said the situation in Edmonton appeared to be “very focused vandalism.”
The scooters have previously been introduced in more than 100 cities around the world.
Mr. Lyons says it’s not clear whether the Edmonton attacks were the result of “a group of mischievous people” or simply one rogue actor “who’s just bored and taking their general life frustration out on scooters.” But he stressed that, over all, the scooters have had a very positive reception in Alberta, with several hundred thousand rides taken in Edmonton so far.
“The long and the short of it is that it’s been a success in both cities in Alberta, and we’re super excited about that,” Mr. Lyons said.
In addition to the arsons, Mr. Lyons said Edmonton saw slightly higher instances of theft than Calgary, but he expects that to decrease as people realize a stolen scooter can’t function and also that the scooters are tracked. (He says people who try to steal scooters are often surprised when Bird representatives “show up in a van hours later politely asking for our scooter back.”)
On social media, theories about Edmonton’s scooter vandalism ranged from them being blow-torched by “angry anti-environment” activists or “radical ultraright terrorists,” or, alternately, that the scooters were malfunctioning and burning themselves.
“I think because they kind of came on the scene very quickly and there was a lot of them, they probably caught people’s attention and they became the shiny new object for people’s vandalism,” Mr. Lyons speculated. “It’s just the shiny new toy. I’m hoping by next year people will get used to seeing scooters, they won’t be that fascinating for people, and those people who have a vandalistic tendency will just walk by and ignore them.
“I know this is an aberration,” he added. “I know we’ll be great next year.”