Last revised: 12/10/2019
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Noteworthy Regulatory Elements
National Organizations Furnishing Guidance on Resources and Best Practices
- National Association of City Transportation Officials, NACTO Guidelines for the Regulation and Management of Shared Active Transportation
- Shared-Use Mobility Center, Learning Module: Electric Scootersharing
- Transportation for America, Shared Mobility Playbook
- Open Mobility Foundation
Some Noteworthy Elements
Allocation of litigation and liability risk between the rental companies and local government
A major issue, underscored by lawsuits against local governments under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state counterparts, is the allocation of litigation risk and liability. Disagreement over how to address the issue led to Bird's withdrawal from Peoria, Arizona. Bird also declined to agree to the terms of the Corpus Christi, Texas ordinance which included an indemnification provision. Another company (Blue Duck) signed the new agreement. San Antonio’s rules require indemnification.
Santa Monica specifies language releasing the city and its employees from liability that operators must insert in their agreements with scooter users.
Citizen involvement in rule enforcement and performance monitoring
San Antonio, Texas has released an app that allows citizens to report violations of its rules governing the parking and operation of e-scooters with a photo of the infraction. Examples include: improper parking, unsafe riding, blocking sidewalks, and fallen vehicles. With time and location such reports could allow scooter companies to impose charges on their customers for failures to comply with local rules.
Most communities are imposing fees. These are of at least two kinds. Per permit and per vehicle fees, like those imposed by Santa Monica, are being justified as providing needed funding for improvements to bike lanes and other accommodations to the presence of large numbers of e-scooters on city streets and sidewalks, as well as the costs of rule enforcement. Other fees are designed to provide incentives for the rental companies to address problems created by their customers. A fee for failure to move improperly parked scooters within a specified period of their being reported illustrates this type. Charlotte, NC is implementing fees that will be adjusted according to a wider range of measures of customer adherence to local rules.
Specialized Enforcement staff
With limited traffic and code enforcement personnel, few municipalities have managed to give e-scooter (and e-bike) riding and parking violations sufficient attention. Hoboken, NJ, is using fees collected from a shared scooter operator to hire enforcement officers focused on these new devices. Elizabeth, NJ, has secured two scooters from its shared-system operator for use on scooter-patrol.
Designated parking areas on sidewalks or streets rather than pick-your-own
Numbers of communities, finding that merely adopting a set of rules concerning the sort of places one should park and not park yields frustratingly poor results, are turning to designated parking zones. San Diego is one. In the summer of 2019, it altered the city's shared scooter regulations to require that scooters be parked in one of numerous city-marked "corrals." In most cases these are marked within paved portions of the sidewalk "furnishing zone." Seattle is studying the possibility of establishing such areas in the street (thereby displacing automobile parking spaces).
Impounding improperly parked or operated e-scooters
A long-established response to unlawfully parked or operated vehicles is to tow and impound, placing the cost of removal and storage on the owner. Private operators, operating in San Diego, have begun offering such a service to property owners who want e-scooters parked on their real estate without permission removed. The City of San Diego has also itself dealt with large scale parking violations by removing and impounding e-scooters. Since it places a significant cost triggered by customer non-compliance on the e-scooter rental companies this enforcement measure holds promise. Phoenix has contracted with a private firm for scooter removal. Richmond is selling off scooters that it had impounded for code violations.
Geofencing has emerged as a potentially promising way to harness the e-scooters' technology and the rental companies' GPS tracking to enforce limitations on speed and where scooters can be ridden and parked. Requiring companies to inform their customers of state and local regulations and urge compliance, and then counting on public employees to respond to widespread rule violations has, to date, proven to be of limited effectiveness. Geofencing by Spin enforces parking and speed restrictions imposed by Oklahoma State. The University of Texas enforces an 8 mph speed limit on e-scooters entering its Austin campus by geofencing. The University of Arizona, with the cooperation of Tucson, is excluding scooters from its campus by geofencing. The pilot program in Charlottesville, VA is employing geofencing to slow scooters in areas of pedestrian density. Both Bird and Lime are participating. As of July 1, 2019, San Jose,CA is simply requiring that scooter share companies have technology in place that will enforce the state's ban on operating e-scooters on sidewalks. Santa Monica, CA is employing it extensively.
Geofencing is, however, not without safety issues; and implementation has proven a challenge. To begin, GPS tracking is not be sufficiently precise to distinguish a sidewalk from its adjacent roadway or assure that a scooter is within a designated parking corral. Moreover, this is one area among several in which the e-scooter share companies have exhibited difficulty matching manageable municipal requirements. At least that has been true with recent geofencing failures in Tallahassee, Tampa, and San Diego. Moreover, a device entering a "do not ride" zone can be programmed to stop (which may require the provider to reset it), slow to a crawl (2 or 3 m.p.h.), and/or give a textual or auditory alert to the rider. A ban on scooters by Beverley Hills, CA is experienced differently by riders of Bird, Jump, and Lime due to how the companies have implemented geofencing. The same appears to be the case with "no ride" zones in Tampa.
Clear rules, clearly presented
Rider failure to comply with regulations governing where and how pe-scooters can lawfully be ridden and parked is a serious challenge to any community trying to exercise serious control. That challenge is particularly acute in communities that draw large numbers of short-term visitors. Extensive signage, illustrated statements of how and how not to park, marked out e-scooter parking places or areas, and public education programs, New>including videos (Charlottesville and Portland) and some that catch riders where they are, are among the measures being brought to bear on the problem.
Special provision for events drawing large crowds
Cities with major athletic teams, regularly occurring special events, and other occasions drawing large crowds are wise to anticipate them with special regulations on where e-scooters can be driven (and how fast) and where they can be parked. Even in the absence of such recurring events, permitting schemes can, and probably should, reserve the authority to impose special limits on share system operators and their customers upon reasonable notice. In Austin, University of Texas football games trigger different e-scooter operating rules. Two hours before game time at Coors Field in Denver riding close to the stadium is prohibited. During San Diego's Comic Con 2019 e-scooters were included in the ban on traffic near the convention center.
As communities seek to understand the potential place of dockless e-scooters and e-bicycles in their overall transportation plan, having detailed information about frequency of use, length and location of journey, and time of day is enormously important. The technology involved makes it possible for the rental companies to furnish it in real time. Some cities are, like Los Angeles and Santa Monica, requiring it and even requesting that data access be available to the public. For the argument in support of such public access data-sharing, see Private Data Islands or Public Data Oasis? Why Cities Need Mandatory Mobility APIs (Spring 2019).
Adjusting numbers on the basis of usage
The pilot program in Charlottesville, Virginia allows a company to introduce additional scooters beyond its initial quota if “if the Permittee can demonstrate an average of at least four (4) trips per operational device per day over a full month, and compliance with this program’s requirements.” It also allows a company “to reduce its fleet size on a monthly basis in the event Permittee’s fleet provides on average less than one rider per device per day.” Adjustments either direction affect a company’s per day per device fee.
Distribution of the vehicles around the city and reduced fees for lower-income users
The pilot program in Austin, Texas allows for the deployment of additional scooters outside the area covered by the initial permit, subject to GPS tracking data verification. To assure equitable distribution across the city’s neighborhood’s, Oakland, California’s ordinance requires that at least half an operator’s scooters “be deployed in Oakland's Communities of Concern (as designated by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission).” It also insists that they “offer a discounted membership plan for those with low-incomes, equivalent to five dollars ($5.00) for one (1) year of unlimited 30 minute rides for those who participate in the State Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or California Alternative rates for Energy (CARE).” Other cities are relying on positive incentives to improve deployment to low-income and low-vehicle neighborhoods.