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Why are people destroying the dockless scooters of St. Paul?

People are bashing scooters on the sidewalk and throwing them into dumpsters, but police aren't sure why.

People are bashing scooters on the sidewalk and throwing them into dumpsters, but police aren't sure why. Tom Basgen, Twitter

We’re only halfway through the summer, but 2019 might be remembered as the year yet-to-be-determined people destroyed every dockless electric scooter in St. Paul.

The electric scooters were first permitted by the city last year to provide an alternative to getting around via car, especially in “areas of concentrated poverty.” The hope was to provide better access to transportation while cutting down on pollution and traffic.

Since then, they’ve been a sort of lightning rod for complaints, whether it’s because they’re strewn willy-nilly on sidewalks or because people are using them to zip blindly through intersections without helmets… or because they’re doing this.

But nobody – not even the St. Paul Police – is entirely sure why people have been going out of their way to damage, destroy, and discard the scooters, sometimes en masse. In late June, some 49 scooters were vandalized over the course of three days. Some were bashed against the sidewalk; others merely had their brake lines cut.

According to the Star Tribune, 31 scooters bit the dust in a single day – the same day a man was spotted near Fifth and Sibley streets throwing them onto the concrete like cherry bombs. St. Paul Police spokesperson Steve Linders says that investigation remains open.

“It can cost more than $1,200 to repair one of these scooters,” he says.

It’s possible this person – or persons – had a “bad scooter experience,” or, for whatever reason, doesn’t want them around. “I wish I knew,” he says.

It’s not the only instance of scooter violence in St. Paul this month. Twitter user Tom Basgen says he saw an older man attempting to throw several scooters into dumpsters near Groundswell Coffee in the Midway neighborhood – a brazen feat one commenter called “some Boomer shit right here.”

(The Tribune reports it hasn’t been as big an issue across the river, but you can find the isolated Reddit post or two about scooters sticking merrily out of Minneapolis recycling bins.)

Linders says the police department looked into the dumpster incident, but it hasn’t gotten much further than that. The man has yet to be identified, let alone grilled for his motives. But Basgen updated with a photo of a Los Angeles Times op-ed by Robin Abcarian, which he says he found taped to the dumpster. The title: “Bird scooters – so much fun, so damn dangerous.”

“When Bird electric scooters began showing up around Santa Monica and Venice last fall, they really tickled me,” Abcarian writes. “But then I crashed.”

A helmet was the only thing that prevented Abcarian from ending up with a broken face, and the result was an intense skepticism about providing cheap rentable scooters to the public.

“Few riders don helmets, which are required. Lots of people ride double – even with small children – which is verboten. People ditch them on sidewalks, creating hazards for pedestrians.” Abcarian has not ridden a Bird scooter since.

Additional clues come from similar waves of scooter vandalism in other cities. There’s an Instagram account dedicated to witnessing the willful destruction of scooters: Bird Graveyard. There, you can scroll through scooters all over the world being half-submerged in the ocean, dropped off roofs, dumped into portable toilets, and set on fire.

Vice, which spoke to some of these guerilla scooter assassins last summer, picked up on a sense of frustration among residents in cities where scooting had become popular. It isn’t fair, they say, to have a gigantic tech company manufacture a product that can be abandoned in your yard, in the street, or in the middle of a public sidewalk and not expect you to wreak havoc on it.

“They’re just counterproductive to public transit,” a 25-year-old artist and bike messenger in Atlanta told Vice. “And they’re not being used for the right reasons by the right people. I mean, you get these douchebags who show up at the skatepark with these Birds.”

Either way, it’s the scooters, not the douchebags, receiving the lion’s share of punishment.

Besides the few incidents last month, Linders says, he thinks the majority of people are “enjoying the scooters. Our general impression is they’re quite popular.”

People who don’t like them are “entitled to their opinion,” but he’d rather see people making the most of the brief window in which riding is even an option.

“Summers are short in Minnesota.”