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Flash floods in Washington, DC take their toll on dockless bikes and scooters

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Bird, Lime, and Jump are pulling their scooters out of affected areas

US-WEATHER Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Flash flooding in Washington, DC has thrown the capital region in chaos, with reports of water rescues, traffic closures, and power outages. The floods are also taking their toll on the city’s thousands of bikes and scooters, with images surfacing on social media of dockless vehicles floating forlornly in floodwaters.

Bird, Jump, and Lime, three of the city’s five operators, told The Verge that their employees were actively engaged in removing scooters from the flooded areas. Another operator, Skip, was ordered by the city to pull its scooters off the streets last month following a battery fire in a storage area. (We’re still waiting to hear back from the other two companies, Lyft and Spin.) Whether those scooters will ever be back in service is an entirely different question.

Lime removed a large portion of its fleet from the DC area today, a spokesperson confirmed. All soggy scooters will be examined by the company’s mechanics, with any necessary repairs or part replacements made before returning to service.

A spokesperson for Uber-owned Jump said the same: “As a safety precaution, we will remove or service any Jump bike or scooter in our fleet that may have been impacted by this flooding.” A Bird spokesperson said all of its scooters that were fished out of the floodwaters will receive “a quality inspection” by its maintenance teams following pickup.

Unfortunately, the sight of an electric scooter submerged in water isn’t an altogether unfamiliar image in 2019. Since bursting on the scene in 2017, electric scooters have been drowned, burned, thrown from the tops of parking garages, and flung into trees in cities across the country.

The life of an electric scooter can be nasty, brutish, and short — so short that building a scooter with a much-improved lifespan has become a necessity for any scooter company that’s hoping to stay in business.

Drowning seems to be the most popular form of vandalism, though. According to Slate, the city of Oakland had to fish 60 electric scooters out of Lake Merritt in just the month of October. In Portland, Oregon, so many scooters have ended up in the Willamette River that some disgruntled Portlanders made a website, scootersintheriverpdx.com, that documents just what its URL promises.

Scooter companies are redesigning their scooters to be more resilient and longer-lasting, but none have yet been able to produce a scooter that is completely water resilient — or one that floats.