by Judy Chaney

Electric scooters are popping up all over U.S. cities. They are fun, easy to use and faster than walking for short trips. Bird, a scooter-sharing system that provides electric scooters available for short-term rentals, began in late 2017 in Santa Monica, California. Scooter-sharing systems, like Bird, Lime, Skip, Lyft and Jump (Uber) are in about 40 U.S. cities and more than 100 cities worldwide. These companies allow riders to locate and unlock scooters with an app. When they reach their destination, they just walk away. Scooters are simple to use and can be picked up and dropped off anywhere. Contractors, known as “chargers” later collect and charge the scooters then drop them off at easy to find locations, typically a marked street corner, in cities.

Cars are not always the quickest, most efficient way of traveling in urban areas. Bicycles and scooters are a better option for shorter trips and they reduce carbon emissions. Electric scooter rides can cost less than $2 per outing. It’s typically a $1 to rent a scooter and then $0.15-0.33 per mile to ride after that depending on the city. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, 38.5 million trips were taken on shared scooters across the U.S. in 2018. There were more than 85,000 scooters available for public use in 2018 compared with 57,000 station-based bikes. They are a great alternative to car ownership or renting cars while out of town for work or vacation but still in a localized area.

The top speed is about 20mph on some scooters, which has caused some concerns over safety for riders. According to a new Rutgers University study, the number of scooter related incidents was 6,957 in 2018, and 66% of those treated were not wearing helmets. The number one cause of trauma related death is head injury, according to Ryan Stanton, M.D., a board-certified emergency physician and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians. Many states have few rules regarding electric scooters but some states, like New Jersey, are putting laws into effect requiring helmets for those under the age of 17.

Another cause for concern is there seems to be confusion on where scooters are supposed to operate. For example, should they be on the sidewalks, bike lanes or streets? Are they classified as a motor vehicle or a toy vehicle? Rather than seeking regulatory approval, companies distributed scooters essentially overnight without permission or permits—taking the approach of acting first, asking for forgiveness later. The market has grown aggressively, causing disruption and backlash from local governments. Cities are starting to take measures to put some regulations into effect. Cities have started to cap the number of scooters each company can have in the city so that they don’t become a nuisance, with 100 scooters piled on each corner of the city. There may be laws that require a helmet or a license to ride on a scooter. It’s best to check with your city to learn the safety rules regarding scooters.

There are certainly some bumps to get through with e-scooters growing so quickly within the cities and the companies. Only time will tell if scooters zipping through the cities are here to stay, or just a fad that will leave cities just as fast as they came into them.