E-scooter companies expanded from one city to 71 cities in the United States in just 15 months. (For a visual illustration of this expansion, check out this interactive map from NBC News.)
Although it’s been a bumpy ride – which, for many cities, involved a ban followed by re-introduction in a pilot program or more carefully regulated ordinances – the speed of the e-scooter boom is undeniable. For every city, this reality calls for new regulations and ways of assessing safety and viability of e-scooters as a long-term resource.
Three E-Scooter Regulation Challenges in 2019
As transportation consultants, we work with cities that face vastly different challenges from coast to coast, but we’re hearing common questions when it comes to regulating e-scooters. These concerns primarily fall into three categories.
1. Safety. E-scooters may look benign, but if you’ve ever ridden one, you’ve experienced how fast 18 mph can be. Safety challenges not only concern the interaction of scooters and motor vehicles, but also the interaction of scooters and pedestrians. Safety education will be a critical component of addressing this widespread concern.
2. Litter. When e-scooters are left sprawled on the sidewalk, ADA compliance is affected as the sidewalks are no longer clear for wheelchairs or other devices. And beyond blocking mobility, the visual clutter can bothersome for cities.
3. Equity. In order for e-scooters to effectively close first- and last-mile gaps, they need to be available citywide, not just in affluent neighborhoods. E-scooter companies also need to develop common payment systems to make them accessible to groups that may not have smartphones with data or Wi-Fi.
To examine one of the many cities that’s facing these questions, let’s drive our e-scooters to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
A popular tourism destination in South Florida, Fort Lauderdale is also a pioneer in the state when it comes to e-scooter regulation.
Fort Lauderdale’s E-Scooter Ride
The City of Fort Lauderdale is a pioneer in the state of Florida when it comes to e-scooters. City Ordinances now include permanent regulations that enable a dockless bike, e-bike, and e-scooter permit program which include:
- General Regulations (ground rules for how devices can be operated and what kinds of basic equipment they must have)
- Parking and Right-of-Way (how scooters can and cannot be parked)
- Maintenance, Operations, and Fleet Size (rules for aspects like rebalancing, smartphone applications, and tropical weather plans)
- Equity (addressing access to this new form of transportation)
- Data Sharing (making sure that the City is provided with semi-real time locational data as well as survey information and monthly ridership updates)
Fort Lauderdale’s ridership data shows that over a half million e-scooter trips have been taken in the first six months since the City’s Ordinance went into effect.
According to the City of Fort Lauderdale’s Transportation and Mobility Department (TAM) Department, “a diverse mix of people ride scooters in Fort Lauderdale — including people in business dress between the office and lunch, construction workers in hardhats between job sites and parking lots, and millennials headed to the next brunch spot.”
To keep track of data patterns and assess future viability, the City of Fort Lauderdale is using a combination of data and community outreach. The Mobility Data Specification (MDS) was developed by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to address the need for standardized data for emerging mobility. The data covers information on the scooters themselves as well as origin-destination and specific routing information. The City is working with a software company to analyze parking statistics, compliance with fleet caps, and trip data, including use of specific facilities and street segments, on- and off-peak riding, and anonymized study of origin-destination trends.
Every six months, the City distributes a rider survey that asks questions related to demographics and how the scooters are being used. These survey responses, combined with MDS data, inform City staff how to best manage the dockless mobility program in Fort Lauderdale as well as help quantify to what degree scooters are taking vehicles off the road. Initial data is showing that e-scooters may be effectively closing first- and last-mile gaps for some network users.
“Based on initial ridership information, scooters are an important component of the transportation ecosystem here in Fort Lauderdale,” writes the City’s TAM Department. “We have also seen that they are filling the intended last-mile gap with trip lengths averaging 20 minutes and traveling between neighborhoods and activity centers that often would be just past the limits of comfortable walking distances.
“We have had preliminary challenges as is expected with any type of new transportation option, particularly one that our residents and visitors are being exposed to for the first time. By-and-large, most riders follow the proper rules and regulations, however, scooter riders, pedestrians, and motorists need to continue to be aware and respectful of each other, so that we can all successfully coexist.”
One strategy the City has taken to address safety and litter concerns is restricting the use of scooters in certain areas at times when they know high amounts of people will be gathered.
For example, because of increased traffic on sidewalks near the beach during spring break, they temporarily prohibited scooter usage on the city’s barrier island.
“The City continues to work with the scooter companies to enhance the program, raise awareness about safety, and look at alternatives so we can make any necessary adjustments to the program in order to be able to continue providing this alternative transportation option to our residents and visitors.”
What We Can Learn From Fort Lauderdale
While the future of dockless mobility regulation remains to be seen, the City of Fort Lauderdale offers lessons to other cities as they seek strategies to regulate and assess e-scooter usage.
1. Make a careful decision about starting with a pilot program.
The City of Fort Lauderdale skipped a pilot program and codified e-scooter regulations into City Ordinances. Particularly in the first few months, this was a significant effort from City staff and took extensive planning. This gave the program permanency, but it is also more difficult to nimbly implement new and innovative measures because all companies must agree to successfully accomplish the task. Cities should carefully consider the benefits and challenges of each approach before they decide whether or not they should start with a pilot program.
2. Policies need to allow for new strategies and rapidly changing technology.
Technology is always changing and policies and regulations need to be flexible to anticipate and allow for adequate adjustment. For example, when the City first drafted the ordinance, the primary form of dockless mobility was bicycles. By the time the ordinance went into effect, however, scooters were the primary dockless option for companies. More changes will come to Fort Lauderdale streets in the coming months, when the state of Florida changes policy to allow scooters to legally ride in the street.
3. Encouraging safe behavior should be paramount to both cities and scooter companies.
Local governments exist to serve the public interest, while dockless mobility operators are for-profit businesses. However, there are many shared interests as these parties work together to ensure the program’s success, and top of the list should be safety.
As cities around the world work toward Vision Zero, education on safe scooter usage is essential. Scooter companies can engage in outreach and education, while governments can enforce safe behaviors.
As with any new mobility option, we need to ask what regulations and spaces are needed for safe storage and usage of these vehicles. Cities need to think about creating safe avenues for e-scooter riders, particularly near public transit if we want to see e-scooters close first- and last-mile gaps. We also need to look at storage, such as dedicated drop-off zones in high-utilization areas, to reduce the “litter” effect; collaborative strategies for safety education; and developing common payment systems and other steps that could improve equity.
Read on to learn about some particularly unique and interesting opportunities that e-scooters present.