For riders, they’re fun, fast, functional and eco-friendly — a terrific alternative to driving, biking or walking for short trips. But for pedestrians who have to deal with them on sidewalks — and motorists who have to account for them on the roads — they can be annoying, dangerous nuisances.
Electric scooters have been embraced in a big way by metro-area residents, especially in downtowns. Last year, 225,543 scooter rides were taken between July and November in Minneapolis. In St. Paul, riders took more than 64,000 trips on the motorized version of what used to be a childhood toy.
Their popularity indicates that scooters will continue to be part of the region’s “micro mobility” scene. Yet strong pro- and anti-scooter sentiment indicates that more must be done to see that they are used responsibly.
An estimated 150 cities worldwide now have rental scooters on their streets. Customers can unlock them through a smartphone app and pay a per-minute charge to ride. When they’re done, riders can park wherever they stop and hired hands will collect and recharge them, then return them to the streets for other users. No parking or buying gas required.
But here’s the problem: Since May in Atlanta, three scooter riders have been killed in collisions with vehicles. That prompted city officials to ban scooter use between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. Chicago has also approved a nighttime ban for safety reasons. In Milwaukee, the mayor warns that a pilot scooter program will be canceled if the high number of complaints continues. Scooters first hit the streets there last month and already the city has logged more than 100 complaints — many from pedestrians who feel their ability to walk safely on sidewalks has been affected.
In Minneapolis, the city’s comment line has averaged about two scooter-related complaints a day this season, many about scooters being randomly abandoned. The city has begun posting signs to remind riders that it’s against the law to operate scooters on sidewalks. As wheeled, motorized transport, they must be operated either in bike lanes or on the street.
And though it’s not legally required, wearing helmets wouldn’t hurt. As exhilarating as it might be to zip along in traffic, a scooter offers no safety protection. That’s also why users should be conscientious about following the rules, and motorists and pedestrians should keep their eyes open for scooter traffic.