Cities grapple with regulating e-scooters
In San Diego over the July 4th weekend, police handed out nearly 100 citations to electric scooter users, while a TV broadcast of a man riding one with an infant in a baby carrier strapped onto him sparked outrage.
Across the country, cities are grappling with the increasing number of e-scooter sharing programs and the regulatory challenges posed by the vehicles.
“First off, they need to learn to slow down when they’re on the sidewalk,” said Tye Shipman, a tourist in Washington, D.C., where nearly 1 in 6 residents used e-scooters in the past year, according to a recent poll.
Mr. Shipman had been walking nearby the Capitol when a herd of e-scooters forced him to step aside quickly.
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh described the scene as “a little bit like the Wild West” when she introduced a proposal to address a host of e-scooter complaints in the nation’s capital late last month.
D.C. lawmakers now are considering regulations on where the vehicles can be parked, their speed limit and how late they can be used.
Urban transportation experts say Washington is just one of the many cities caught up in the “micromobility revolution,” which promotes shared transit over car ownership.
Last year, Americans took about 38.5 million trips on shared e-scooters, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
Battery-powered scooters have been around for years, but only recently have they been equipped with GPS trackers and wireless connectivity.
GPS allows users to rent them for roughly 15 cents per minute after downloading an app, then leave them anywhere at the end of a ride — instead of returning them to designated locations, or docks.
Driving the growth are Silicon Valley darlings — Bird and Lime, startups that have raised $418 million and $467 million from investors, respectively. Together the firms have had more than 22 million riders in roughly two years of service.
Other major e-scooter companies include Jump and Lyft, which are owned by the ride-hailing firms Uber and Lyft.
Opponents of the movement say these firms have dumped thousands of vehicles on city streets without proper permits and no warning.
Last year Los Angeles issued a ceaseand-desist letter to Bird after it launched operations before the city had finalized regulations for the vehicles. Since then, L.A. has approved a citywide dockless vehicle pilot program.
In a legal battle with Santa Monica, California, Bird had to pay $300,000 in fines and other fees.
In the Midwest, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill to regulate e-scooters, capping their weight at less than 100 pounds and speed limit at 15 mph.
The debate over their safety continues. Earlier this year, the University of California-Los Angeles released the first comprehensive study tracking a year of injuries from e-scooter use in two area hospitals. It reported that only 4.4% of riders said they wore a helmet.
Since the beginning of 2018, at least 11 e-scooter rider deaths have been reported across the country, according to The Associated Press.
Supporters of e-scooters insist they are safe. They counter that cars kill more than 40,000 people a year, while another 5,000 lose their lives on motorcycles.
Meanwhile, Chicago has just started a four-month e-scooter pilot program.
That news prompted The Chicago Sun Times editorial board to remind Chicagoans: “Riders, mind your manners and park your scooter properly after a ride. That means upright and parallel to the sidewalk and street, or in a bike rack.”
Cities are trying to regulate usage of electric scooters.