Under the cover of darkness, an emerging risk appears

By Peter Stephenson, VMLIP Local Government Specialist

Not once but multiple times electronic scooters have been dropped off in neighborhoods around the City of Norfolk in the middle of the night.

The first time with no forewarning, and thereafter unauthorized while the city was actively working on a solution to create a regulatory framework for these undocked, shared mobility devices.

Many communities throughout the Commonwealth, and across the country, are facing similar challenges in trying to react to this latest version of capitalism at its finest.

If you have not heard of companies such as Bird, Jump, Lyft, and Skip, don’t feel bad as this ‘overnight’ trend has evolved quickly. We have grown accustomed to vehicular rideshare and docked bikeshare applications, which have provided many strategic benefits in an environmentally friendly manner. Now, undocked bike share companies like Mobike, Ofo, Pace, Spin and Lime are also growing with the latter two offering both undocked bikes and electric scooters for rent – all using a mobile app.

Our members’ actively plan for the impacts of growth and seek to develop and maintain a safe transportation network for all modes of transit. So what’s not to love about e-scooters? Sounds like loads of fun and convenience on two wheels.

Yet this potentially manageable surprise could navigate into a danger zone and become a real exposure.  Risk awareness is key as this new transportation technology trend moves forward.

Riders getting hurt on electric scooters is a real concern, with injuries or fatalities resulting from risky riding either on streets or sidewalks, riders under the influence or not wearing helmets.  Mounting conflicts between the scooters, pedestrians and the other modes of transportation are inevitable.  Some states classify them as toy vehicles and they are restricted to sidewalks.

However, per the Code of Virginia, Section 46.2-903, scooters are not permitted to ride on sidewalks. 
VMLIP Managing Director Steve Craig and Director of Member Services Marcus Hensel test Bird scooters in Portland

Thus, should they be restricted to marked bike lanes here in the Commonwealth?  What about their use in public parks?

Some existing pilot programs and new applications suggest these scooters be parked to allow for at least a five foot pedestrian clear zone and not block access to travel lanes, driveways, sidewalks and ramps, fire hydrants, parked cars, bus stops, and entrances to buildings.

While other localities appear ready to confiscate them if the scooters are left unattended on any sidewalk or public right of way if interfering with pedestrian or vehicular traffic.  Theft and vandalism are other possible concerns.

Public policy decisions abound, and no doubt one size doesn’t fit all.

How will you respond, through a request for proposals?  What ordinances, processes, permits, fees and types of enforcement will you need in place?  At VMLIP we will continue to monitor this emerging risk.

In the meantime, our members are encouraged to begin internal stakeholder discussions to plan and prepare as e-scooters are likely to proliferate, especially in urbanized areas and around our colleges and universities.

For more information, contact Peter Stephenson at: pstephenson@vmlins.org or 804-363-8186