Pictured: E-scooters and Bikeshare in Toronto. Photo by Nicolas Zucco, 2022.
Dockless electric standing scooters (e-scooters) have rapidly become a popular form of micro-mobility option. Shared e-scooter providers are responding to the public need for sustainable, convenient, and flexible travel modes for shorter distances, and can also expand the reach of public transit by addressing the first and last mile challenge. However, e-scooters are sometimes framed as a public health problem, primarily due to concerns about traffic safety on and off street. But, little work has been done to understand how municipalities are addressing the safety of shared e-scooter systems. To address this gap, we investigated the following research questions:
We have used a qualitative approach to analyze the perspectives of municipal staff who are working to manage shared e-scooter programs. The study population covered US and Canadian cities which 1) have published e-scooter regulations (or micro-mobility regulations) and 2) have completed a pilot project. The scope of this list was further limited to mid- and large-sized cities by eliminating those with populations below 100,000.
Interviewees were identified by contacting individuals or general information e-mail addresses in transportation or mobility departments on each municipality’s website, in summer 2021. In total, we interviewed 22 municipal staff (14 US and 8 Canadian municipalities). The interviewees had a direct role in drafting or supervising the e-scooter policy or program in their municipality. The interviews, which generally were 1 hour or less in length, took place virtually on Zoom between September and November of 2021. Five main topics were discussed 1) the interviewee’s role in the e-scooter policy creation in their municipality, 2) the concerns about municipality’s key policy goals, 3) the challenges encountered in implementing the e-scooter policy, 4) compliance by providers and users with rules and regulations, and 5) key findings from the pilot project. In this paper, we specifically focus on the topic of safety.
Municipal perspectives on e-scooter related public health concerns can be discussed under four key themes.
Safety and Vulnerability of Riders
E-scooter riders are vulnerable road users who are less physically protected. Current users are also inexperienced. The e-scooter’s relatively small footprint is a concern at night times, when visibility is low. Some municipalities have included e-scooters in their Vision Zero policies. Building safe infrastructure is a key policy priority. Education and outreach about user safety is also a common policy approach. Interesting public-private partnerships models already exist, including “learn to ride” events, and in-app safety quizzes.
Safety Monitoring and Data Quality
Understanding the true safety impacts of shared e-scooters is difficult, because of the poor data quality. Some municipalities are working with their local hospitals to understand the trends. Partnering with health care staff to monitor injuries and collect data, can help municipalities understand road safety. Currently, this approach is less common in practice.
Unsafe Rider Behaviour
User behaviour and non-compliance play a role in the frequency and severity of e-scooter collisions. Although encouraged, helmet use is not required in most municipalities Some common regulations discussed include speed limits, age requirements, restricted operating hours, and parking requirements.
Sidewalk Riding and Improper Parking
E-scooters pose a larger safety risk to pedestrians on sidewalks, and those with accessibility needs, compared to bicycles. Sidewalk riding was one of the most frequently discussed concern in the interviews. Inconsistencies in sidewalk riding regulations, differences in user perceptions of safety, or simply a lack of knowledge, may contribute to widespread safety issues on sidewalks. Many technological improvements have the potential to address the safety challenges related to sidewalk, such as riding detection technology, lock-to requirement, sound emission.
This research identified four general approaches that municipalities take in addressing safety issues:
Generally, we observed that the municipalities have increased program requirements for safety over time. We also saw that municipalities who have authorized e-scooter providers more recently incorporated new technologies (e.g. sidewalk riding detection, geofencing, etc.) and education from the outset of their programs.
This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)