With more and more kickstands flipping up on electric scooters in different pockets around Metro Atlanta, especially the capital city itself, the laissez-faire feel of the whole craze has hit a tipping point. The City of Atlanta, under increasing pressure to further regulate e-scooters after the fourth Metro Atlanta rider died last week, has taken the first steps at such. City officials announced Thursday a ban on e-scooter ridership between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. Three of the four scooter deaths have occurred in this time frame.
Expect this move to be only a stop-gap change, as more has to fall in place for e-scooters to grow and coexist with other forms of transportation.
Atlanta first started trying to curb scooters in January, when the city banned the scooter-riding on sidewalks, instituted a 15 mph speed limit, and levied a $12,000 annual permit fee for e-scooter vendors. And the city has gotten more strict in enforcing the sidewalk ban in recent times, with violators on the hook for up to a $1,000 fine. But these initial stabs at trying to make both scooter riders and sidewalk pedestrians safer obviously didn’t go far enough.
In the months since, the number of riders has grown and so have complaints. Pedestrians find the scooters annoying and dangerous, as more aggressive or flippant riders zigzag in and out of crowds. Those sudden moves increase the danger for both parties. Combine this with the fact that e-scooters now are banned from sidewalks and the annoyance level finds another height.
But with legal scooterists now taking to streets and bike lanes, they find themselves in more danger. With no skill level required for a scooter patron and no helmet requirement (helmets are suggested, but not included on e-scooters), scooter riders are seemingly even more in danger in the street.
So pedestrian safety improved at the cost of the safety of scooter riders. This is easily quantified by the fact that all four scooter deaths have taken place since scooters were banished from the sidewalks.
Atlanta has now tried to stymie the increasing hazards by eliminating nighttime e-scooter-renting and riding when conditions are more dangerous and when people are more likely to use the handy bi-wheeled, low-riders to bar hop. And maybe this can at least stop the increase in injuries and deaths. But this doesn’t address the rest of the problems or maybe even the meat of the e-scooter controversy.
Where are these things supposed to go? Atlanta cannot feasibly create scooter-only lanes everywhere. Heck, there aren’t even enough bicycle lanes around town for that more established transit vessel. Outside of the dangers of scooter riders being so close to passing motor vehicles unprotected, being mixed in with faster-moving and better-protected cyclists isn’t exactly a recipe for safety. There just doesn’t seem to be a great place for these scooters to operate.
When the scooters aren’t in operation, riders dispense them all over the place, left to the mercy of entrepreneurial fellow citizens to gather them in bulk and charge them. As nimble, convenient, and modern as this may be, it does create a blight for many. And the responsibility for scooter operating companies seems very low. Their main overhead is the scooters themselves and then the apps that receive payments and activate the units.
One solution to the haphazard scooter disposals could be requiring docks or racks for all e-scooters. But this certainly would be a major buzz-kill on the convenience level of this technology, which allows ridership of any distance. But the docking system works well for bike-share services, like Citi Bike. Enforcement, however, would be quite difficult and would more than likely fall upon the different operators to penalize customers with charges for not following this theoretical docking policy. And the docks themselves could also be aesthetically lacking and logistically challenging. Would all the e-scooter companies make their docks interchangeable, or would there have to be different docks for each company?
There are more questions than answers going forward for the e-scooter craze. Not only Atlanta, but other Metro cities will have to decide in their own ways how to handle them as they spread to other city centers. Maybe scooters could soon return to sidewalks and BeltLine passing rules could be in place: the fast go to the left and the slow to the right. But e-scooter success takes cooperation of everyone, not the least of which being the highly criticized riders. One fact is certain — the status quo cannot and will not remain.
Turnbull and Smilin’ Mark McKay discuss the e-scooter ins and outs on their most recent WSB Traffic Podcast.
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Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.