The e-scooters are coming! How cities can prepare

May 24, 2019
4 MIN. READ

Electric scooters are popping up everywhere, bringing new variables into urban mobility. These are the top seven questions for cities to consider before taking the ride.

With over 38 million trips taken in 2018, portable shared mobility devices such as electric scooters (i.e., e-scooters) are a popular transportation option that can offer many exciting benefits. However, municipalities that allow the use of e-scooters need to consider ways to minimize adverse safety impacts and reduce right-of-way clutter. Cities should work closely with micro-mobility operators through a pilot program or operating agreement to make sure e-scooter deployments in their jurisdictions promote safety, support local transportation goals, and benefit all members of the community.

As with any new technology, these devices raise big questions for cities to consider:

1. How do e-scooters fit into overall transportation planning efforts?

E-scooters can replace vehicle trips and have the potential to fill the “first-mile, last-mile gap” with public transit. In its pilot program, Denver requires e-scooters to be readily available at transit and bus stops, and operators must relocate (or “rebalance”) e-scooters to these locations each day.

However, promoting e-scooters for transit access can be challenging. In a survey Denver conducted in January 2019, only 37 percent of respondents reported using e-scooters in connection with transit occasionally (less than once a week), and 44 percent reported never using e-scooters to complement their transit rides.

2. How many e-scooters should operate in a jurisdiction?

Most cities cap the number of e-scooters that operators can deploy. Some, like Austin, require operators to remove devices that are not seeing enough use (e.g., less than two rides per day). Washington, DC set an initial device cap but allows operators to increase their fleets up to 25 percent per quarter, at the District Department of Transportation’s discretion.

Other cities, like Providence, charge e-scooter operators a per-device fee, which dissuades operators from flooding a city with too many e-scooters and allows them to determine the appropriate number of devices.

3. How many micro-mobility vendors should operate in a jurisdiction?

Many cities do not limit the number of operators. Charlotte, for example, sets no cap on the number of micro-mobility vendors but requires them to obtain a permit. Others, such as Fort Lauderdale, have decided to cap the number of permitted operators allowed in the city.

4. How will you address safety concerns?

Safety issues are a serious concern. Portland reported about 10 scooter-related emergency room visits per week during their pilot program in 2018, and found that 90 percent of riders do not wear helmets.

Cities are working with micro-mobility operators to address these issues. Santa Monica prohibits e-scooters on sidewalks and requires that device speed is automatically reduced to five miles per hour when in specific areas designated by the city, such as in parks or along promenades.

5. How do you reduce device clutter?

Most jurisdictions provide instructions in e-scooter operator agreements for how riders should park devices, including restrictions against blocking sidewalks, fire hydrants, and ramps. Some municipalities, like Arlington, have designated voluntary e-scooter parking corrals.

While many cities collect an up-front fee from micro-mobility operators to help cover the estimated cost to remove improperly parked e-scooters, riders are generally responsible for correct device parking. Sacramento, however, takes the issue a step further and fines operators $15 each time a device is found to be parked in a manner that blocks the public right-of-way.

6. How do you ensure that all members of the community have access?

Cities are including equity elements in their shared mobility agreements, recognizing the importance of making devices available to all. In its request for proposals for an e-scooter pilot program, Kansas City required that 20 percent of scooters be placed in disadvantaged communities and asked vendors to provide user-friendly payment solutions for riders without cell phones or bank accounts.

Even with proactive policies, increasing device access to all groups is difficult. San Francisco requires permitted operators to provide low-income riders with discounted fare programs, but in its six-month evaluation of the one-year pilot, the city found that low-income residents only make up 1 percent of e-scooter riders. In response, the city has made micro-mobility fleet expansion contingent on the number of riders that the operators enroll in their low-income plan; operators can increase their fleet by 800 devices only if they reach at least 150 low-income plan members, and to increase the fleet by 1,500 devices they must recruit at least 500 low-income plan members.

7. How are e-scooters addressed under current code?

It is important to understand whether e-scooters fall under current regulations and if any changes will be necessary. For example, the state of Colorado currently classifies e-scooters as “toy vehicles,” which are not allowed to drive in the street or bike lanes. Legislators recently passed a bill to authorize local governments to regulate e-scooters in a way similar to how cities regulate electric-assisted bicycles.

While the proliferation of e-scooters can come with benefits, officials should devise a clear plan to avert unintended consequences. In ICF’s experience helping cities tackle such challenges, municipalities can be ready to roll—safely—by accounting for the questions above.

How do you think cities should support and regulate e-scooters? Let us know your thoughts on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. For more information about ICF’s work with e-scooters, micro-mobility, and transportation planning, contact Stacy Noblet at stacy.noblet@icf.com.

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By Stacy Noblet and Carrie Ryder
Senior Director, Transportation