Scottsdale’s rules governing e-scooters could be in for changes following a city report suggesting not all companies or riders comply with regulations City Council passed last November.
The ordinance also governed the rentable bicycles, which have disappeared from the city as scooters’ popularity continues to soar.
Five scooter companies – Bird, Lime, Lyft, Razor and Spin – currently operate in the city. Uber’s Jump scooters are no longer active in Scottsdale.
The five companies were responsible for over 292,000 rides between Dec. 13, 2018, and April 14, 2019, and nearly 319,000 miles ridden. Lime accounted for over half of those miles with 170,000.
Bird’s 2,197 scooters make it the largest operator in Scottsdale, followed by Lime (700), Lyft (660), Spin (531) and Razor (167).
Lime had the most total rides at 134,700 – nearly half of the total scooter rides detailed in the report.
Councilwoman Solange Whitehead said the level of usage in the city shows the scooters are filling a need.
“The ridership demonstrates the value of having this transportation option,” Whitehead said.
With the high usage, there is some conflict, such as some scooter companies failing to comply with local rules regulating their products.
The new report includes several suggestions for City Council to further tighten regulations on these vehicles, in an effort to improve safety and respond to complaints – mostly from downtown residents and business owners – regarding e-scooter riders and companies are flouting existing parking rules.
From Dec. 2018 to July 2019, the city’s ScottsdaleEZ system received 419 reports of alleged violations of the ordinance – with 56 percent including complaints scooters were parked in prohibited areas.
The next largest complaint – making up 15 percent of the reports – was companies violating a rule banning more than five scooters, from a single company, from staging adjacent to one another.
The largest violator was Lime, the subject of 40 scooter-related citations. Lyft had 30 citations.
Despite having the most scooters in circulation, Bird had just 10 citations.
Whitehead, who said she supported having alternative transportation options in the city, such as scooters, acknowledged more work is needed to improve safety and compliance.
“The ridership demonstrated this was filling a need and I support the City tweaking rules to improve safety, protect businesses and public sidewalks,” Whitehead told the Progress.
However, not all council members feel the scooters are a valuable resource.
Councilman Guy Phillips said he would like to boot scooters out of Scottsdale altogether.
“I am of the opinion that we have tried to work the scooters into our city as a means of short-trip transportation, but I think it’s clear the liabilities far (outweigh) the benefits and will recommend removal altogether,” Phillips explained.
Beyond recommended improvements to the ordinance, the report also includes the framework for a potential licensing system requiring companies to pay the city if they want to continue to operate in Scottsdale.
Such a system would have to be approved by the City Council.
Brent Stockwell, assistant city manager, said a licensing option was originally presented to the City Council in Nov. 2018, as an alternative, if the current regulations were insufficient.
Under the framework in the report, scooter companies would be required to pay a flat $1,000 license fee and a per-device fee of $150, meaning the city could potentially pull in millions of dollars if companies continued to operate at existing levels.
Mayor Jim Lane said he opposes the idea.
“Nothing I’ve seen to this point in time moves me in that direction,” Lane said.
Lane said he fears entering a formal arrangement with the scooter companies could open the city up to increased liability if someone becomes injured while riding.
Personal injury attorney Jonathan Negretti disagreed.
Negretti, who specializes in scooter-related injuries, said the licensing program could include a requirement for companies indemnify the city in the case of injury or accident.
“I think the city has to adopt some sort of regulation that that limits the places where these scooters can be utilized and create some sort of licensing arrangement,” Negretti said.
Lane doesn’t buy it, stating, “Any good attorney worth their salt is probably going to be able to get around that and find us” liable.
There is still the unresolved question as to who is responsible if a scooter rider is hurt, Negretti said.
Depending on the circumstances of an incident, Negretti said the companies, rider, city or automobile drivers could potentially be liable.
He said the companies, which typically indemnify themselves in user agreements - riders must agree to, should make it clear riders may not be covered.
Licensing could drive some scooters out of the city.
Lime pulled out of Tempe when it adopted licensing. Tempe’s fee is higher than Scottsdale’s at $1.06 per vehicle per day or $386.90 per year.
It’s unclear if operators would leave Scottsdale if it imposes a licensing fee. Representatives from Lime, Lyft and Bird did not respond to a request for comment.
Spin provided a statement by Tim Alborg, director of government partnerships, indicating it would work with the city to comply, citing its cooperation with Phoenix’s pilot program.
“Like Phoenix, we are in close communication with the City of Scottsdale regarding rules regulating scooter use. We are one of the only companies that are following their rules regarding the deployment of scooters at bike racks and other designated parking areas. We plan to continue working with the City of Scottsdale to improve transportation options for everyone,” he said.
The city’s report includes an option to ban companies from renting scooters on public property. The scooters would still be permitted to operate in Scottsdale but would have to be set up and returned to pre-set areas on private property.
Both the licensing option and the ban are listed as “issues for future consideration” in the report, which also includes some more measured recommendations to address safety and parking issues.
It also recommends the city council adopt a $50 impound fee and $25 relocation fee, if city staff has to relocate improperly parked scooters.
Complaints from downtown business owners often cite scooters left lying in the middle of public and private sidewalks.
Another question raised is how the city will pay for increased enforcement because staff is already expected to perform significant duties under the existing ordinance.
Stockwell said the city has no plans to increase the police presence downtown for compliance, although any licensing option would require additional staff for parking enforcement.
Just three staff members were responsible for reporting 61 percent of alleged violations to the ScottsdaleEZ system.
Despite that dedication of resource, city court only assessed $9,295.80 in fines from December 2018 to July 2019.
The city did propose additional revenue sources in the form of impound and relocation fees.
Additionally, licensing would likely generate significant additional revenue.
Stockwell said the city would take projected additional revenues into consideration before procuring additional costs.
The report also looked into safety issues.
Scottsdale Fire Department responded to 89 calls for service related to scooters between Dec. 2018 and July 2019.
HonorHealth Osborn Trauma Center reported 116 scooter-related cases between Jan. 2018 and August 2019, including 66 involving alcohol.
Driving a scooter while drunk is already prohibited in Scottsdale.
“From Dec. 13, 2018, through July 13, 2019, Police calls related to scooters included at least 113 citations and five arrests… Of these, 92 (81 percent) were for parking violations, the rest were for moving violations, such as reckless riding, riding under the influence, failure to yield or failure to obey traffic control devices,” the report said.
Only two of those injured reported wearing a helmet – something recommended by the CDC to prevent injury.
The Scottsdale ordinance contains no helmet requirement.
To improve safety, city staff recommends riders under 16 obtain written permission from a parent or guardian. Many scooter companies already have age restrictions.
Stockwell said this rule is needed “to protect public safety since private restrictions are not enforceable by the city.”
It is further recommended scooters not be allowed to operate between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Another recommendation would create transportation safety zones downtown, forcing scooters riders to move off downtown Scottsdale sidewalks or walk scooters in prohibited areas.
“Most of the identified problems regarding scooter usage have occurred in Old Town Scottsdale. Most sidewalks in Old Town are not of sufficient width for pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter users. As a result, the draft ordinance requires dismount zones on sidewalks in the Transportation Safety Zone, which includes most of Old Town Scottsdale,” the report said.
However, the rule could actually cause a new safety concern by pushing scooter riders onto busy downtown streets.
“This would result in devices being used in the travel lane on Scottsdale Road, Drinkwater and Goldwater Boulevards even though those streets do not have bike lanes,” according to the report.
Negretti argued is scooters are pushed onto busy roadways it could result in more danger for all involved.
“You put these on the streets and they’re not equipped to handle that,” he said, adding “flow of traffic and trying to then navigate the bike lanes even can be difficult.”
Negretti said manuals from the e-scooter manufacturers state they are to be ridden with two hands on the steering mechanism at all times, which is not conducive to on-street riding that would require hand signals.
Stockwell said the city did not study the effect the rule would have on traffic in the area but pointed out - riders are already allowed to ride scooters on the streets in question.
Lane, the mayor, said he is a proponent of moving scooters off the sidewalks in Old Town but is concerned about increasing scooter traffic on busy streets.
“I wouldn’t be an advocate for moving them out onto Goldwater,” Lane said.
Whitehead said the e-scooters have been a valuable transportation resource to the city but safety, including automobile driver awareness, needs to be taken into account.
“Any discussion on improved safety must also focus on drivers slowing down and focusing on the road,” Whitehead said.
Negretti said riders still need to educate themselves on how to ride safely and what could happen in the event of an injury.
He said many user agreements with scooter companies include stipulations for forced arbitration and some limit damages to a maximum of just $100.
Negretti also said many auto and home insurance providers, which had provided coverage for scooter riders in the past, are now refusing to cover treatment for scooter-related injuries.
“There’s really big concern because I don’t think people think that way,” Negretti said. “They’re getting on a scooter and they’re not realizing that they may not be covered at all.”