In their eagerness to create breakthrough technologies and disruptive platforms, innovators sometimes collide with an established (and perhaps ill-suited) regulatory and policy-making process. In a previous article on e-scooters, we reported that a strategy of "permissionless innovation" enabled app-activated e-scooter startups to gain a precarious foothold in urban mobility markets. However, these startups soon discovered that safety and regulatory issues - including the lack of regulations in most situations - led to controversial relations with cities and citizens. In this article, we cover recent experiences, lessons learned and thoughts on the need for collaborative solutions. For an overview of the e-scooter market and its dynamics, read our article E-Scooters: A Passing Fad or Smart Mobility?
A Rough Regulatory Road
In the early days of e-scooter sharing, city governments were caught off-guard by the sudden popularity of this new form of transport and by the unexpected problems involving street clutter, urban infrastructure hazards, recycling issues and mobility safety risks.
Less than a year after introduction in the U.S., e-scooters were operating in 65 cities. "They did not arrive without disruption; companies Bird and Lime began operations in 43 markets without government permits or consent. Several cities responded with cease and desist orders, fines, or both." In the U.S. in 2018, more than 1,500 people were treated for scooter-related injuries.
Globally, numerous countries and cities were unable to resolve e-scooter regulatory and safety issues in the short-term and decided to ban their use until further evaluation. In recent months, e-scooter policies, regulations and local rules continued to evolve in each country and city by city.
Europe: Reaction and Response
In Europe, national and local authorities reacted to e-scooter operations in various ways from outright bans to city-specific rules and regulations. As of June 2019, e-scooter sharing companies were operating in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. Germany joined this list in July.
German lawmakers finally approved a law to allow e-scooters "to circulate on roads and cycle paths but forbids them from being used on the pavements. Users must be 14 or over and must respect a 20 km per hour speed limit." This action was welcomed by Achim Berg, President of Bitkom (a digital association) because "e-scooters can be an ideal complement to bus and train for the last few kilometres to the destination" and therefore make public transport more attractive. However, Germany's cycling association claims the approval of e-scooters does not give enough consideration to infrastructure issues.
Vienna introduced a new law to govern e-scooter use and operations. Angelika Winkler, Deputy Head of Department for Urban Planning and Transport Planning, said in Cities Today that the new law requires e-scooters to have the "same legal status as bicycles, so they won’t be allowed to ride on the pavement. They will also need proper safety features, such as good brakes and lights."
"France hardened its stance against e-scooters" when Elisabeth Borne, Transport Minister, announced "as a result of accidents and a feeling of growing discomfort on sidewalks" that e-scooter riders were banned from riding on pavements, limited to a 25 km per hour speed limit and not allowed to use headphones while riding.
In Spain, the traffic authority (DGT) is "scrambling to put laws in place to control the exponential growth of e-scooters." Although there is no official data on the number of e-scooters in the country, the DGT estimates the total exceeds 110,000. "The Spanish government had laws ready to be introduced" but a national political stalemate required regional and municipal governments to introduce their own e-scooter rules.
North America: A Regulatory Patchwork
In New York, legislation to legalize e-scooters and e-bikes passed in the New York Senate and Assembly in June, according to an article in Curbed. The legislation "will allow municipalities in the state to decide how to regulate e-scooter sharing programs," although a provision is that shared e-scooter services are not yet allowed in the borough of Manhattan.
In California, San Diego residents were angry when hundreds of e-scooters cluttered city sidewalks and piled up in gutters. "Since scooter rental companies like Bird, Lime, Razor, Lyft and Uber-owned Jump moved into San Diego last year, inflating the city’s scooter population to as many as 40,000 by some estimates, the vehicles have led to injuries, deaths, lawsuits and vandals. Regulators and local activists have pushed back against them." Barbara Bry, a San Diego City Council member, called for a moratorium on e-scooter usage. “My constituents hate them pretty universally,” she said in a New York Times article.
In San Francisco, the aggressive launch of e-scooters by three startups in 2018 - without permits and without consideration for regulations - led to major problems in terms of e-scooter parking and people riding illegally on sidewalks. The city banned all e-scooter operators except Scoot and Skip, who were awarded temporary permits under a pilot program. In September 2019, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced the next phase of its Powered Scooter Program and awarded permanent permits to four e-scooter companies (Jump, Lime, Scoot and Spin).
In Boulder, Colorado - a bike-friendly city with extensive infrastructure dedicated to cycling - authorities and citizens have been unwilling to allow e-scooter sharing companies to launch services even under pilot programs. The city issued a nine-month “emergency moratorium” in May, preventing e-scooter operators from obtaining licenses. "The moratorium is intended to stay in effect until the city has a chance to thoroughly vet the issues surrounding e-scooters, engage the community in conversation and examine the scooter’s environmental and economic impacts.”
While Canada was relatively slow to allow e-scooter sharing on its streets, authorities in Montreal allowed Lime to launch e-scooter services. "To avoid dumping, the city gave e-scooters designated parking spots and warned of fines for users leaving behind their rides haphazardly. But as soon as the scooters became available, Montrealers complained of the devices littering the city's sidewalks. The city's mayor expressed concerns about the rollout, and the city decided to study experiences in U.S. cities before deciding to restrict the number of shared e-scooters allowed to operate.
Proactive Programs to the Rescue
While numerous cities grappled with legal and regulatory issues, cities such as Portland, Oregon and Charlotte, North Carolina moved ahead with authorization of e-scooter pilot programs and other measures allowing e-scooter operators to introduce their vehicles and services.
Portland decided from the beginning of the e-scooter phenomenon to create a more proactive approach than other cities. In 2018, the city launched its E-Scooter Pilot Program to give citizens access to shared e-scooters while ensuring alignment of e-scooter business practices with the city's fundamental objectives to reduce congestion and pollution levels, prevent fatalities and serious injuries, and improve access to opportunities for underserved citizens. The city also required data-sharing with operators as one of the tools to evaluate e-scooter impact.
According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), this pilot yielded favorable results. "A majority of Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively. In a representative citywide poll by DHM Research, 62 percent of all Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively at the end of the pilot. Support was even higher among Portlanders under 35 (71 percent), from people of color (74 percent), and those with incomes below $30,000 (66 percent)."
After the initial pilot program, Portland launched a second, more extensive pilot in 2019 with a set of state and local rules for e-scooter riders and for the companies offering shared e-scooter services.
Example Case: Portland E-Scooter Rules
Dylan Rivera, a PBOT spokesperson, said in a recent article: “We have some of the most comprehensive requirements for e-scooters of any city that we’ve heard of in America.”
After an initial pilot in 2018, Charlotte enacted comprehensive e-scooter rules, limiting speeds to 15 mph, banning two people from riding a single scooter and prohibiting e-scooter users from riding on specific sidewalks. In early 2019, the city decided to test dynamic pricing for e-scooter companies. "Under dynamic pricing, the city could charge companies more or less per scooter, based on whether riders are following safety rules like wearing helmets and whether the scooters are parked safely." In another pilot announced in July, Charlotte is cooperating with Spin and Passport to test a parking model for Spin’s e-scooter fleet.
In another example of proactive planning, Chicago approved a four-month pilot program to observe e-scooter operations and demand. The city allowed multiple e-scooter companies to participate by operating their e-scooters in a specific pilot area from 5 AM to 10 PM, with a speed limit of 15 mph and no riding on sidewalks. To ensure effective implementation of the pilot, each e-scooter operator is required to comply with strict rules. For example, operators must:
- Provide language on their websites and smartphone apps that informs riders about city regulations (and requires riders to agree to follow the rules before allowing them to unlock an e-scooter).
- Ensure e-scooter riders comply with the same parking requirements as regular private bicycles and - except for a few exceptions - do not take e-scooters on public transport buses or trains or rail stations.
- Be committed to addressing equity issues (e.g., providing access to e-scooters for citizens without smartphones and for those without credit or debit cards).
- Provide real-time data to the City and publicly available data on e-scooter and system availability.
In addition, e-scooter operators in Chicago are required to educate riders "to be courteous of public way use and encourage proper parking behavior" and "to implement a marketing and targeted community outreach plan at their own cost."
Although e-scooter sharing represents a promising micromobility solution for smart cities, especially in regard to first-mile / last-mile (FMLM) challenges, it presents challenges for city leaders and citizens:
- Safety risks for e-scooter riders, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users
- Sidewalk congestion, urban clutter and recycling problems
- Controversy regarding the use of mobility infrastructure
- Lack of regulations concerning e-scooter parking, safety, licensing and rules of the road
- Lack of trust between e-scooter operators and cities
- Issues concerning integration of e-scooters in the urban mobility ecosystem (including equitable access)
- Legal and liability issues
Cities learned that e-scooter riders - even in the absence of regulations and manufacturers’ safety guidelines - were eager to ride in spite of injury risks. A study of e-scooter injuries by the Public Health and Transportation Department in Austin, Texas in cooperation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  revealed that “almost half of injured riders sustained head injuries,” and 15 percent experienced traumatic brain injuries. Other severe injuries included bone fractures; nerve, tendon, or ligament injuries; severe bleeding; and sustained organ damage. Researchers also studied where people were being injured:
- More than 50 percent of e-scooter riders "were injured in streets and 33 percent on sidewalks."
- Motorized vehicles "factored into 16 percent of injuries, but only 10 percent of riders actually collided with a car."
- Ten percent of injured riders "hit a curb, and 7 percent struck an inanimate object, such as a light pole or manhole cover."
Stephanie Hayden, Director of Austin Public Health said these findings “show the risks involved in riding scooters and have significant implications in considering what individual safety measures can help reduce injury.”
Cities that decided to wait (e.g. by banning the operation of e-scooter sharing services) had time to consider the impact of e-scooters on their cities, study the situation in other locations and evaluate municipal options. Cities such as Portland that chose a more collaborative and proactive approach were able to observe the actual impact of e-scooters and make adjustments in a series of controlled pilot programs.
Most cities are aware that giving approval for pilots or other permission for e-scooters leads to inevitable safety and infrastructure issues, because few if any cities are prepared for e-scooters operating on sidewalks, bike paths or streets. Many cities learned the hard way that e-scooter sharing services signify more than a quirky mobility innovation. They learned these services are a potentially disruptive force that does not have an obvious "strategic fit" in urban transport systems. The question arises: How can cities and micromobility innovators create collaborative solutions?
Jakob Fricke, Director of Platform Business Development at Samsung NEXT, writes in Sifted that cities realize the "need to collaborate with private players if they want to accelerate the move towards carbon-neutral urban transport." Fricke offers ideas on city solutions for e-scooters (and other mobility innovation):
- Cities as monopolies - where cities operate new mobility services and integrate the services into an existing transport offering
- Cities as aggregators - where local authorities accept multiple competitors within the city’s mix of mobility services (allowing access to passengers through a single ticket or subscription plan
- Cities as platforms - where a city-operated neutral platform is provided for all mobility companies, and all companies must share data with the platform
Based on recent experience, cities should benefit from acting proactively in regard to e-scooter sharing, for example by requiring those who drive e-scooters to have a license (and all those who drive and ride e-scooters on streets to wear helmets); setting speed limits to match urban situations; enforcing city rules for e-scooter use on roads and sidewalks, and in parks and pedestrian centers; and requiring operators to share in safety responsibilities, educating riders on city rules and facilitating equitable access to e-scooter usage. Many cities are taking steps to limit the number of shared e-scooters operating on city streets. However, it is uncertain if these limits constrain the widespread adoption of a potentially viable FMLM solution.
In terms of finding an urban mobility fit for e-scooters, an opportunity for cities is to consider linking public transport to e-scooter sharing through a collaborative mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) strategy. Moovel / REACH NOW - in cooperation with Tier Mobility - provides a MaaS platform that includes shared e-scooters in a multimodal app. "With integration into the REACH NOW app, we are taking the next big step towards linking TIER micromobility with public transport," said Lawrence Leuschner, CEO of TIER Mobility GmbH.
Floatility, a German company which is both an e-mobility operator and e-scooter manufacturer, offers a MaaS solution for smart cities with its 'e-floater' - a next-generation, 3-wheel scooter which it claims is "the future of short distance personal travel, helping to connect with public transit users." A fleet of e-floaters, designed with a 24/7 telematics solution, easily replaceable batteries and emission-free service vehicles, connects to a cloud software platform and can be deployed in a dockless system or combined with solar recharging infrastructure.
For the long term, urban planners and policy makers should consider that micromobility disruption in the future may (and most likely will) occur from unexpected sources. Perhaps the next wave of innovators will follow the path of e-scooter role models and act aggressively to launch services, capture market share and work on the consequences later.
"An issue for urban planners is how city rules, regulations and infrastructure changes for e-scooter sharing might have an impact on the next wave of micromobility and inhibit or encourage future innovations.", states Thomas Müller, Managing Partner at bee smart city.
Considering e-scooters and the way they arrived in such an unwelcoming fashion, cities need a regulatory process which allows a measured response to future mobility innovation (permissionless or otherwise) and prevents urban problems from getting out of control. This means crafting a collaborative balance between innovation which passengers need and the safety and urban standards that society demands.
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Read more about urban mobility topics and solutions in the following articles:
- E-Scooters: A Passing Fad or Smart Mobility?
- Smart Mobility: Challenges and Solutions in Smart Cities
- Mobility as a Service: A Blueprint for Disruption?
- The Long Road to Urban Mobility Safety
- Last-Mile Delivery Solutions in Smart Cities
- Cities in Motion - It’s Important to Consider the Unintended Consequences of New Technology
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Banner Image: iStock, ID: 1181195701, Credit: Petko Ninov
Portland E-Scooter Rules: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/733695