How should e-scooters be regulated?

Electric scooters seem to be everywhere you look these days, zipping by on the sidewalk, or blocking the sidewalk, dotting every other street corner.

Two main e-scooter companies, Lime and Bird, emerged at first in Santa Monica and the westside. However, as the scooters have started moving east, north and south, there has been pushback. For instance, Beverly Hills has temporarily banned them.

And although the e-scooters are popular, there’s plenty of disdain for them, people complain that they’ve almost been hit by a scooter on the sidewalk, people express frustration with scooters being thrown on the ground, stacked on each other like dominoes.

In the City of LA, these scooters aren’t licensed or regulated, at least not yet. But the Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote soon on rules about how scooters can operate in the city.

“There’s clearly a demand, there’s an interest, but we need to take this chaos and create clear regulations,” said Councilman Bob Blumenfield. “People need to feel safe when they walk on the sidewalk that they’re not going to get hit by a scooter. And we also have an obligation to protect people when they’re riding on our streets.”

Here are some of the regulations being considered by the City Council:

  • E-scooter companies will initially get a conditional permit and can apply to be part of the city’s year long pilot program.
  • The scooter speed would be set at 15 miles an hour or lower.
  • Scooter companies would be limited to 3,000 scooters on the ground once the pilot program starts with the caveat that they can add 2,500 more if scooters are placed in disadvantaged communities.
  • The city reserves the right to create “geo-fences” that prohibit or allow parking in certain areas.

However, not everyone on the Council wants to manage the scooters. Councilman Paul Koretz has asked for a temporary ban until regulations are in place.

“I mean, I’ve had to dive out of the way myself a few times on Beverly Boulevard but I’d be even more concerned if everyone was driving them on the busy street,” said Koretz. “There really isn’t a good place for bicycles, much less scooters, which I think provide even even less security.”

The scooters are often compared to Uber and Lyft, companies that disrupted the transportation industry and forced officials to scramble to play regulatory catch-up.

Grab anyone on the streets of the central part of LA, and they’ll have something to say about e-scooters.

“We want to work proactively with the cities to help to create more safe places to ride that get people off the sidewalk and give them a right of way where you know there’s not likely to be in danger of being injured by a motor vehicle,” said Emily Warren, Director of Public Policy at Lime.

And what about helmets? Most scooter riders just don’t wear them. Warren says Lime is thinking of different ways to get helmets distributed, including partnering with local businesses that can serve as hubs. Meanwhile there is a bill that’s snaking its way through the state legislature that allow adults to ride scooters helmetless and would mandate helmet use only for minors under 18 years old, the same rules that apply to bicycles. AB 2989 just passed the Senate and is being considered currently in the Assembly.

Safe or not, the scooters have become wildly popular. They solve a problem for many tourists and commuters alike: how to cover short distances in L.A. without driving through heavy traffic.

Although cities have pushed bike-share programs for the past few years, scooters have become preferable to bikes for shorter distances, according to Emily Warren.

“So, we’re able to reach a much larger audience than traditional bike sharing services has been able to access. And that means that there’s an opportunity to shift people away from less sustainable modes of transportation and that people often used for those short trips in the past,” said Warren.

One of the short trips city planners are most focused on: how to get people to and from light-rail train stations and bus stops. If you live or work just a little farther from public transit than you want to walk, you might opt to drive. This is called the “first-mile, last-mile” problem.

“Clearly a potential solution is the scooter. You can step out of your house you can check on your iPhone you can see where the nearest Bird or Lime or whatever is and you can walk a short block or two to find it and have a you know a relatively easy ride to this transit stop,” said KCRW’s Frances Anderton, who has been watching e scooters since they first appeared locally a year ago. “So clearly it presents itself as a potential cog in the multi-modal wheel of transportation.”

Anderton says the things that bother people most about the scooters may be fixed over time.

“There was a time when the car was the biggest disruptor. There was no infrastructure to support the car. We’ve built it over the decades. The bicycle was once a massive disruptor. Again we find ways of integrating new forms of mobility.” said Anderton.

Here are the current rules pertaining to scooters:

  • Must be 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license
    (state law only say DL, but e scooter companies say 18 yrs old)
  • Must use a helmet (state law…unless AB 2989 changes that)
  • Must not go faster than 15 mph (state law)
  • Must not be on the sidewalk (state law)

Common sense safety:

  • Don’t double up and ride scooters in pairs
  • Don’t let your kid kid borrow your phone so he/she can go a ride an e-scooter
  • Walk/Run/Sprint your dog with an e-scooter
  • Wear a helmet
  • Follow traffic rules.