Electric micro-mobility is rapidly growing in the United States (U.S.) and around the world. Seattle, as a major tech city, is no exception to this trend.
Whether a rental or a P.E.V. (Personal Electric Vehicle), electric scooters, unicycles, one-wheels, boards, and bikes are on the streets more and more. All of them, of course, electric-powered.
Have you heard stories that go like, “I arrived with just a dollar in my pocket?” Well, if we consider inflation and the current economy, I think that would apply to my personal experience. I landed at SeaTac International Airport in Jan. 2020, with just $100 in my pocket. After purchasing a SIM card for my phone and a six-pack of beer, I didn’t have much left. Of course, I was staying with a host family who would support me financially, as typically agreed and signed by international students before coming to the U.S.. I still had a few months before starting my classes in the spring of 2020, and I needed some money to support myself and cover personal expenses, including transportation.
That was when I learned, the very hard way, that in the U.S., you “need” a car – it is not optional unless you live in a 15-minute city. For example, to go from where I was living to the Angle Lake light rail station in SeaTac, I had to walk a bit more than two miles through three massive hills. I did it a few times, and it took me a lot of sweat and 35 to 45 minutes each way. The closest public transport connection was to go four miles south on one bus, and then four miles north again on another bus. It would take me the same time as walking directly.
I hated this so much that I only did it once. I’d rather walk and get in better shape in the meantime while listening to some podcasts. Yet, it still took too much time, energy, and sweat to do that regularly. Back in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I used to walk everywhere. When I needed to take the bus, it would take me 20 to 35 minutes to get to the furthest places I need to go, including waiting time. During 2019, rental electric scooters were booming in the city. Everyone was shocked to see something like that in our streets – as if it came from another world. I rode them year-round everywhere in Buenos Aires.
After receiving my first paycheck in the U.S., I knew I was going to get my own e-scooter. It turned out that riding them in Buenos Aires was just practice for riding them here all over Seattle. When I finally made enough money to buy a good one, the feeling took me back to those fun days in Buenos Aires. I told my host family that I was going to use it to commute to Seattle Central College, and they told me that was just impossible. With a few modifications to the scooter, I was now riding from Angle Lake to downtown Seattle, back and forth with one single charge – with maybe a couple miles left to ride. The furthest I’ve ridden was from the town of Snohomish to Green Lake through the Interurban Trail during nighttime. It was so much fun.
It’s difficult to calculate precisely, but at this current date, I must have ridden about 5,000 miles around Seattle. I use my scooter for everything – commuting to work or classes, running errands, going shopping, recreational riding, visiting friends, and anything else. After reviewing the cost of buying a car, costly maintenance, parking, and gas, I decided firmly that I won’t get one while studying with a F1 visa. Besides, P.E.V.s are eco-friendly compared to traditional fuel-powered cars. If I ever get a car, it’d be a Tesla.
Community of e-riders in Seattle
As people are increasingly becoming curious to try these micro-mobility E.V. (Electric Vehicle) alternatives, either for fun or as daily transportation, communities of e-riders are being created to share enjoyment and ride together. Some true and extreme fanatics even choose it as a lifestyle – I’ve seen truly crazy characters and vehicles.
Naturally, people joining the movement also gather to share the culture. Every weekend, year-round in the evenings until midnight, and sometimes even weekdays, local groups meet and ride all over Seattle. I’ve been on a few group rides, and it has been amazingly fun. We ride, we talk for hours while our vehicles charge, we ride again to a fast-food place, and sometimes we end the night in a bar sharing a few drinks and good food. It’s a warm and welcoming community for all E.V. lovers – each with a different story that led them to get one or even many P.E.V.s.
Now that longer daylight times are here, you might see them around, group-riding with music and colorful lights. But they don’t hibernate: they also ride during the winter during the Big Dark and very cold temperatures. As long as it’s not snowing or heavily raining, since it’d be more dangerous with risks of slipping and falling. No matter the conditions, it’s always safer to wear as much body and head protection as possible. The rides might be shorter in very cold temperatures since it reduces the capacity in lithium-ion batteries, the most popular electric batteries in vehicles. But either way, the riders are still out. People fist-bump them when they see them, smile, take photos, ask them who they are and what it’s all about – and cars honk at them.
The spectators have all sorts of impressions, from immediately getting involved to complete disapproval and concern. The truth is that electric micro-mobility is still too novel for many, as it appears to still be like the Wild West of personal transportation.
However, if we speak about the concerning continuous trend of vehicle accidents, car-related accidents still take the lead. In 2022, the Washington Department of Transportation recorded 9192 auto-related accidents, in which 36 people were killed and 243 were seriously injured in Seattle. From my own experience as a two-wheel vehicle rider around Seattle, cars just don’t pay enough attention to other vehicles with anything other than four wheels. On Oct. 25, 2022, I was hit by an SUV driver in SeaTac, who apparently was not paying attention on the side where I was coming from on the bike lane. I was crossing the intersection on the sidewalk, and the driver just accelerated and hit my e-scooter with his front bumper, throwing me a couple meters off my scooter. I broke my wrist, and I am still proceeding with medical treatments.
Nevertheless, P.E.V.s are a huge experiment on the road, and I personally think it’s something that could bring a lot of convenience for short commuters and help the environment in general. Especially for us in the Pacific Northwest who luckily have such green landscapes and gems all over.