New speed bumps are ahead for Austin’s thousands of dockless scooters as they become a popular target for vandalism and criminal mischief.
After the deployment of multiple scooter fleets in Austin in the past year alone, scooter-rental companies and students are now voicing concern over the vandalism of electric scooters. Brian Gawlik, mechanical engineering graduate student, said he is often inconvenienced by scooter vandalism.
“Sometimes you’ll see like ten scooters downed across the sidewalk, and you have to step out in the street just to walk around them,” Gawlik said.
Bird, the first company to launch electric scooters in Austin, is encouraging people to report irresponsible behavior and vandalism to scooters.
“When Bird vehicles are vandalized … it’s like breaking windows in our own neighborhood,” a Bird spokesperson said in a statement. “We hope that when people see available Birds, they are mindful of our friends and neighbors who rely on our vehicles to get to work on time or make it to their next class or appointment.”
Bird works with law enforcement and removes people from their app to combat vandalism, according to the statement.
Lime, Jump and Lyft did not respond to The Daily Texan’s request for comment.
Noelle Newton, spokesperson for the UT Police Department, said UTPD has not encountered any instances of scooter vandalism but urged students to report any vandalism in progress.
Gawlik said from his experience, it is often immaturity that motivates scooter vandals.
“When I’ve seen people pushing them over or putting them in trees and stuff, it seems like they’re doing it to impress their friends,” Gawlik said. “It’s part of the general cynicism toward new technology, but at the same time, I feel like it’s also kind of trendy to hate scooters.”
This trend can be represented by an Instagram account, @birdgraveyard, where posts are dedicated to scooter abuse and vandalism. Whether it be by smashing, burying or burning scooters, the page has caught national attention and surpassed Bird’s own Instagram page in number of followers.
Psychology professor Art Markman said accounts like these could be one reason for the existence of scooter vandalism in Austin.
“Twitter accounts and websites depicting scooter vandalism also create a lot of ‘me too’ behavior where one person’s behavior affects the behavior other others,” Markman said in an email.
Markman said another possible explanation lies in the distance between scooter companies and their consumers.
“It feels like a victimless crime,” Markman said. “The companies that leave the scooters on the street are faceless.”
Markman said the vandalism could also be attributed to the etiquette and social norms of scooters. People are parking scooters inappropriately, and others might be using vandalism to retaliate, Markman said.
“You can’t punish the actual person who left a scooter in a bad place because the scooters are a shared resource,” Markman said. “So people end up vandalizing the scooters as a way of sending a message about their frustration.”
On UT’s campus, students should use newly designated scooter parking zones, according to an email from Parking and Transportation Services.
However, Gawlik said he sees vandalism as a contributor to community frustration with scooters.
“(Vandalism) definitely just makes the problem worse because now you have scooters coming out of bushes and hanging from trees,” Gawlik said. “The backlash just serves to intensify the problem to its fullest.”