A Bumpy Road for E-Scooters

Despite the growing popularity of e-scooters as a fun and environmentally-friendly way to traverse cities, not all municipalities and regulators are fully along for the ride.

The e-scooter industry is on a roll. Since 2018 when e-scooters first started appearing on the streets and sidewalks of many major U.S. cities, their popularity has quickly taken off, surpassing first-year adoption rates of other sharing services such as bike sharing and car sharing.

Lime, a San Francisco-based micromobility company, recently expanded its services to include e-scooters which are now in use in 40 U.S. cities. Bird, another California-based e-scooter company has steadily expanded its user reach to 70 U.S. cities, according to the company’s website.

Weighing convenience vs. safety

The ability to turn a long walk into a fun and much shorter ride has led many commuters and tourists to fully embrace this new technology and its convenience in navigating busy cityscapes. Many environmentalists also welcome the technology as a smart solution to help lower carbon emissions in an era of climate consciousness. On the flip side, there have been vocal critics of the technology, citing danger to public safety in already crowded pedestrian environments. Reports of sidewalks blocked by unattended or abandoned e-scooters, collisions with pedestrians and street vehicles, and a number of unfortunate deaths have caused many local governments to weigh the pros and cons – even the outright ban– of e-scooters in their municipalities.

E-scooter regulations have been ambiguous and confusing

E-scooters tend to fall into a gray area as a mode of transportation. This has many state and local governments struggling with how to classify e-scooters and how to create legislation that properly enforces rules that keep riders and non-riders safe.

In New York State, for example, until recently, state law didn’t address e-scooters so they technically fell under the category of motor vehicles. But they were not considered motor vehicles either because they could not be registered by the Department of Motor Vehicles. In some states such as Colorado, e-scooters are considered toy vehicles. That means people can ride them on the sidewalk alongside pedestrians but not on the street or in bike lanes, where cities generally prefer them to be. Such ambiguity has left many users of e-scooters confused as to what rules they need to follow – if any.

Taking action

According to reporting from USA Today, some cities, such as Chicago, recently launched pilot programs for sharing scooters, eyeing the potential to ease congestion and pollution brought by cars. Portland, Oregon, launched a 120-day pilot program in 2018 and a one-year program this year that started in April. New York State passed a bill in June to legalize the vehicle, though renting them is prohibited in Manhattan – you have to own one to ride it.

But some cities have said no, or at least not now. Recently, Chattanooga, Tennessee, issued a six-month ban of the conveyance. San Francisco and Beverly Hills once took similar approaches. Nashville’s mayor called for a ban on the vehicle following the city’s first scooter-related death. The Metro Council rejected the plan and the legislative institute decided to reduce scooter fleets instead.

Manufacturers of e-scooters have also been under pressure to provide more thorough training on the proper and safe use of e-scooters, including the correct areas in which to ride them and the necessity for proper protective gear such as helmets.

Recommended Reading

The National League of Cities recently published a thorough analysis of micromobility in cities, and the challenges and benefits of rising technologies like e-scooters. It’s an excellent overview, and can help answer some of the questions that you or your municipality might have. You can read it here (PDF).

If your community is thinking about e-scooter legislation, we can help.

We can take you through all the steps to supplement your Code should your community decide to enact new legislation around e-scooter rules and regulations, or update any current laws.

For eCode360 clients, a good place to start is the Multicode Search tool. By using it, you can browse our entire database of more than 3,000 eCodes to find similar legislation in nearby communities that you can compare to your local laws, or use as samples for developing new legislation.*

*Keep in mind that your Municipal Attorney should always be consulted regarding the legality and appropriateness of the legislation that you’re considering. He or she can help you modify sample legislation to fit your community’s specific criteria.


Citylab: Why Electric Scooters Companies Are Getting Serious About Safety

Huffpost: Many States Have No Rules For Electric Scooters. That’s About To Change.

The American Conservative: Are E-Scooters a Menace or Needed Innovation?

Government Technology: California, Other States Take on E-Scooter Regulations

USA Today: Electric scooters: Love or hate them? Here’s what you need to know

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