Public menace? Or valuable innovation?
Cities continue to seek a common ground on e-scooters, the rentable solo vehicles that now swarm across many urban areas. On one hand, the dockless devices are a great transportation alternative; on the other, they’ve often proven to be a safety hazard. And in the interest of public safety, some cities are starting to take a tougher stand on scooters.
One of the latest cities to act is Atlanta, which has imposed a temporary ban on evening operation after four riders died this year. “Sadly, we have seen a pattern in the recent and tragic fatalities involving scooters – they all occurred after sunset,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement. All companies operating the scooters in Atlanta have been asked to disable the devices from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Some cities are placing geographical limits on where the scooters can operate. Virginia Beach, for example, prohibits their use in the city’s Oceanfront area or on any sidewalk. Chicago won’t let them operate in the downtown Loop and other busy areas.
Other cities, meanwhile, are taking an even tougher stand. Last month, Chattanooga, Tennessee, issued a six-month ban on e-scooters. Summit County, Utah (Park City) and Breckenridge, Colorado, recently banned them. Nashville Mayor David Briley called for a ban after the first scooter death occurred in that city, but the Metro Council there overruled Briley and called for a reduction of the scooter fleet instead.
The largest analysis of e-scooter injuries and deaths, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at medical records in Austin, Texas, from September through November of last year. The study identified 271 injuries, of which 45 percent were head injuries and 39 percent involved fractures. “A high proportion of e-scooter related injuries involved potentially preventable risk factors,” the report concluded, “such as lack of helmet use, or motor vehicle interaction.”
While e-scooters have plenty of enemies (including vigilantes who throw them into the nearest body of water), they also have lots of supporters. Besides the people who just enjoy riding the devices, there are also transportation planners who see them as them as filling an important “micromobility” role: A quick and inexpensive way of getting to and from existing public transportation networks.
They might make our cities greener. But as city officials mull that desired outcome, they are forced to grapple with an inescapable question: At what cost?