(opinions) abandoned Spin Scooter

A Spin scooter sits abandoned in the south end zone of Lane Stadium, Sept. 27 2019

Littering is a contemptible act. Nothing ruins the enjoyment of a scenic setting like stumbling upon someone’s leftover candy bar wrapper or a crushed can of “Natty Light” in the woods. Virginia Tech’s campus is something worth marveling at; there are few things that make you more proud to attend our school than watching the sky over the Drillfield turn purple at the end of the day, surrounded by the buildings dressed in Hokie Stone. It’s a humbling sight. In the past, Virginia Tech and its community have done a respectable job at keeping the campus looking neat and tidy, aside from the occasional bootlegger bottle found behind a dumpster. Since the beginning of the semester, however, a new kind of trash has littered the sidewalks: the e-scooters.

To be fair, it’s a pretty enticing prospect, especially if you are someone who is bitter about having to park all the way by Lane Stadium like I am sometimes. Ph.D. candidate and instructional designer at Technology Enhanced Learning and Online Strategies (TLOS) Daron Williams said, “I thought it was a nice way to get all the way across campus without having to drive.”

In most of my observations though, it is used by those who, wearing a pair of AirPods, think they have the finesse to skillfully wade through human traffic in densely populated walkways like those in front of Newman Library or Burruss Hall. “Most of the people I’ve seen have been riding them on sidewalks and sometimes it’s busy; I’m not sure how safe that is,” Williams said. As he dismounted his scooter, and he was sporting a safety helmet; something I rarely see on others riding the e-scooters.

As intimidating as it must be for most students who, when taking a brief minute to look up from their mobile device, see a scooter rider hurtling toward them downhill, what is more intimidating, I think, is the knowledge that a select 50 e-scooters are equipped with front-facing cameras recording at all times. I know that not everyone is as paranoid as I am, but with the fact that there will be those 50 cameras recording along with 20 fixed cameras placed around campus, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you could be recorded at any moment. According to one Virginia Tech webpage titled “Scooters on Campus,” the cameras are being used to analyze trends in rider behavior. I have full faith in the responsible use of that footage, but is it really a stretch of the imagination to think that some of the recordings could also fall into the hands of law enforcement if they deemed it necessary for an investigation? Should this be a concern?

Finally, paranoias, minor quibbles and annoyances in riders’ behaviors aside, I find the most disheartening reality of the newly available e-scooters to be the fact that many people don’t seem to know how to return them to their proper places. As I’ve heard from students around campus, the intended resting place for the scooters should be, at the most, five feet from a bike rack. Some abide by this rule, but it’s no secret that people fail to adhere to it constantly. I’m always disappointed when I am walking down a sidewalk that is suddenly obstructed by an upright scooter, or even one face-down on the pavement perpetually imitating the mating call of Optimus Prime. I’ve even caught students in the act, dismounting their scooters in a haste, hopping into their friends’ cars with the scooters consequently tipping over. To quote Williams again, I wholeheartedly agree with his point that, “Responsible use of them is going to be important.”

These scooters are utilities to help students navigate the campus with greater ease and speed, not toys for you to play with and then drop when something else catches your interest, expecting Mommy to come pick up after your mess. The improper use of these vehicles only reflects poorly on our student body; it’s just not a good look. You’re effectively littering, with little consideration for the space you’re inhabiting, nor the people who inhabit it with you, and for a campus as beautiful as ours, that’s just a shame.