In the past few months, I have often found myself zipping along the busy streets of Seoul—on an electric scooter. With the simple press of a button, through which one activates his or her scooter-sharing service, I arrived at my destinations—whether they be restaurants, cafes, or even the subway station—in the matter of mere minutes. Nowadays, ride-sharing, in the form of cars, scooters, and bicycles, is growing increasingly common, especially among teenagers. Services like Lime and Tada offer commission-free transportation services and have become ingrained in youth culture. In the name of convenience and cheap prices, these companies are enticing the public.
However, what most of us do not realize when utilizing such services is the fact that they threaten the livelihoods of their users and others. First of all, open access to public transportation such as electric scooters presents a multitude of safety hazards that are often overlooked by both its users and pedestrians alike. As with any other vehicle, electric scooters run the risks of rider inexperience, road accidents, and technical failure. In a sense, this all roots from scooter-sharing services’ inability to verify whether a user actually possesses a license. Accounts on some applications can be created within seconds, simply by clicking “I agree” to five checkboxes. Not only are electric scooters subject to illegal operation by minors, but they can also be grossly misused. For example, common scenes on the streets may include riders on scooters without helmets, abandoned scooters in the middle of sidewalks, and multiple riders illegally sharing a single scooter. Such dangers are prone to accidents and injuries, ultimately producing a detrimental impact on society.
Unfortunately, safety hazards are similarly prevalent in the realm of car-sharing. A recent issue in London saw Uber losing its license to operate due to uninsured rides. According to Transport for London, Uber’s systems compromised passenger safety by allowing unauthorized drivers to pose as verified employees through simple photo uploads. Such manipulation of the company’s services resulted in over 14,000 rides that subjected passengers to potentially unlicensed and uninsured drivers. Yet, this is not the first time that Uber was forced to retract its license, with previous bans being issued in Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, and Northern Australia. While car-sharing companies like Uber provide efficient transportation services that are popularized by the public, these rides may often be associated with unforeseen security risks that should be addressed in the future.
By no means does this signify that people should not seek everyday convenience—in the form of cheap, fast, and fun transportation. Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter once theorized that economic growth can only result from “creative destruction” in the market, with one economic process replacing another. All goods and services experience the phenomenon of corporate natural selection. Which smart-device is most appealing to trend-obsessed teenagers? Which kitchen appliance makes homemakers’ lives more efficient? It is only natural that consumers grow infatuated with novel methods of commuting from one place to another.
However, what many consider to be convenient is often simply a means to make people lose agency over their lives. For instance, Amazon Go, an avant-garde convenience store, is devoid of any cashiers. Shoppers enter and leave the store without ever needing to pull out cash or a credit card. And the same applies to users of Lime and Tada; everything is done through the application.
Even if we submit to this rising trend and relegate the easiest of everyday tasks to technology, steps should be taken to preserve the livelihoods of unsuspecting consumers worldwide, including teenagers at SIS. Even simple short-term solutions, such as attaching helmets to each scooter on the sidewalk or tightening the terms of agreement for car-sharing services, would remedy many of the problems identified thus far. We should not need to choose safety over convenience or vice versa; it should be a prerequisite to anything we do in our lives.