Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will not allow scooter sharing company Revel to reopen its New York City operations unless they are convinced it can be done safely. Revel shut down its fleet of electric mopeds in the city on July 28 after the second death of a rider in just two weeks.
“Our people have been talking to Revel, and they’ve been making changes, but not enough changes, is the bottom line,” the mayor said according to the New York Times. “This has just gotten to be too much. It just doesn’t work the way it’s structured.”
Fair enough. But, if safe streets are still front and center of the Vision Zero mayor’s mind, why not forward stricter policy and regulatory measures that makes similar demands of automobiles and their manufacturers?
This past June as the city began to slowly awaken from months of COVID-19 trauma and quarantine, nine pedestrians were killed by automobiles on city streets. Not only that, four cyclists, five passengers and 11 other motorists were also killed in motor-vehicle collisions according to NYPD. Nearly 3,500 were injured—many seriously— in motor vehicle collisions across the city.
Despite the jarring automobile carnage, the mayor has yet to introduce solid policy proposals that prioritize safer streets such as bike, alternative transportation and public transit infrastructure.
All that’s not to say that Revel and their scooters don’t have serious safety issues. Besides the two people who were killed, it’s not clear how many other people have been injured by a Revel moped crash since the company began expanding its footprint in the boroughs beyond Brooklyn last year. Although the company requires little training for its riders, the scooters can easily accelerate to speeds over the city’s 25 mph speed limit on local streets and for many riders, it may be the first time on a moped. Further, it’s common to see Revel riders barreling down bike paths which is not acceptable.
Reportedly, the company’s rider accountability and safety measures are lackluster at best. Revel has also been named in at least a dozen lawsuits because of faulty brakes and balding tires. Nonetheless, it would be a real shame to see the company and its fleet of convenient clean energy scooters simply disappear.
Revel said in a June 28 statement announcing the closure that the company was “reviewing and strengthening our rider accountability and safety measures and communicating with city officials, and we look forward to serving you again in the near future.”
Here in Brooklyn, the blue Revel scooters have become a common site and their popularity has clearly exploded because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vespa-like mopeds add a little funky European flavor to the herds of SUV’s, trucks and cars crawling down crowded avenues. But like any mode of transportation in New York City, there’s an element of risk involved.
It’s probably because we’re raised to believe streets and roads—our largest swath of public space— were created solely for the automobile, that we’ve essentially normalized automobile violence on the city’s roadways. The hundreds of deadly or body maiming city car crashes that happen each year in New York City hardly ever show up in headlines like the two tragic Revel deaths and thus, they mostly get a pass in the arena of public outcry.
While the mayor is correct to call out Revel for its sketchy rider training and other seemingly lax oversight, all the sanctimonious hand wringing over the scooter company’s safety record, comes off as just a tad bit hypocritical considering the dearth of vision and solid policy he’s articulated for city streets—just as we face what some are calling the upcoming automobile congestion crisis or carmageddon.
As the city continues to reopen and scores of New Yorkers return to work, those who might be reluctant to get on the subway or a bus will likely rely on a car to get from point A to B. Anyone, like myself, who rides a bike through the streets of Manhattan or Brooklyn on a daily basis, has already witnessed an already stifling level of automobile traffic. Not only that, frustrated automobile drivers are clearly getting aggressive and driving faster where they can.
In a July 1 statement after June’s automobile crash carnage, the organization Transportation Alternatives wrote that de Blasio’s indifference to the return of traffic has Been disastrous for street safety.” They called on the mayor to prioritize the safety of those using our streets, to invest in bike and public transit infrastructure to support our city’s recovery, and to stave off a massive influx of cars.
Although Revel’s electric scooters are certainly not bicycles, they are also not fast-moving carbon belching moving machines made of thousands of pounds of steel that are capable of crushing the bones of pedestrians and cyclists in a matter of seconds. Perhaps the city could develop a quasi-private-public partnership with Revel—or a company like it—and exert greater oversight of the company’s safety protocols and the screening of its riders. Now is the optimal time for the city and mayor to be thinking outside the box and seeking out ways of providing alternative modes of transportation to New Yorkers.
Cody Lyon is a New York City-based journalist.