The State’s Capital City is considering legalizing dockless electric scooters, or e-scooters. These two-wheeled scooters are increasingly popular modes of transportation in urban areas. Riders use a phone app to active the scooter, pay a fee depending on the amount of time they use it, then leave the scooter at their destination.
Charleston City Councilman Emmett Pepper is the lead sponsor of an ordinance legalizing their use. He is quoted in the Charleston Gazette-Mail saying that the scooters are already being used, even though it’s currently against the law, so it is best if they are regulated.
“I think we just need to modernize the code to make something that’s popular and widely acceptable… to be authorized and to also have some safety precautions put in there and give some guidance to the populace on how to operate them safely.”
The proposed ordinance includes a number of prohibitions: No riding the scooter on a road where the speed limit is more than 30 mph (the scooter’s maximum speed can be no more than 25 mph), no one under 16 can ride, you cannot ride the scooter on the sidewalk, and scooters cannot be left on the sidewalk.
Those proposed rules and others make sense, and if consistently obeyed, the scooters might be an intriguing and novel entry into the era of “micro-mobility.” However, the reality is that in many cities where the scooters have been around for a few years, they are a giant headache and often a hazard.
Scooter riders routinely ignore the rules, weave in and out of traffic, ride on sidewalks and dump the scooters wherever they choose. Most riders don’t wear helmets, which means lots of injuries.
Austin, Texas was flooded with the scooters a few years ago. A study by Austin Public Health during a three month period in 2018 found 271 scooter riders sustained injuries serious enough to go to the hospital, and about half of them had head injuries.
The study also found that one-third of the individuals who were hurt were riding an e-scooter for the first time. The Austin study noted meekly, “additional training may be necessary.”
A study by the National Library of Medicine determined that “Injuries caused by electric scooters are an emerging phenomenon despite existing regulations. A striking 25 percent of injuries seen require surgery.”
Some cities are fed up with the scooters. The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reports that city is limiting where they can be ridden “due to concerns related to pedestrian safety and reckless use of scooters.” Cincinnati is considering banning the scooters and St. Louis already has.
Yes, the scooters are already on the streets and sidewalks of Charleston, even though they are against the law. A city police officer testified to the City Planning, Streets and Traffic Committee last month that the police are too busy attending to more urgent matters to enforce the code.
That should be a warning. Legalizing the scooters will mean a dramatic increase in the number of riders and a rise in complaints about those not following the rules. The police do not have the time or manpower to chase down a 17-year-old kid riding a scooter through a crowd on the sidewalk or weaving through traffic.
The desired impression of e-scooter proponents is of a helmeted hipster gliding carefully along a city street, making their eco-friendly way to work at a tech firm. There will be a few of those, but the reality is closer to an unskilled rider creating a hazard for himself and others.