By Nicholas Moayad
Convenient and inexpensive public transportation methods have been widely available in the United States for decades, but with the technological advancements of the 21st century, more and more privately-owned transportation methods are being made available to anyone with a smartphone. Dockless scooters are one polarizing example of this trend. Dockless scooters are rentable electric scooters that are placed around busy areas of cities and are available to be rented by anybody via an accompanying app. Because dockless scooters have taken countless cities across the US by storm, they raise regulatory obstacles that need to be hurdled by the companies and city officials.
Questions regarding pedestrian and rider safety, vandalism, as well as the safety of drivers on the road all must be addressed, and while it may be a daunting task between regulators and business owners, progress in this realm is something that has already been achieved. Moreover, a guideline-setting example of this progress occurred recently. When Uber and Lyft launched, businesses and regulators faced similar problems that others face today with the launch of dockless scooter companies, yet the implications of Uber and Lyft’s problems were of much greater magnitude because it is car-ride sharing, instead of electric scooter sharing (2).
Although the dockless scooter concept presents conceivable problems, those same sorts of problems have already been solved in a more serious context. So it is surprising that city regulators across the country have been setting arbitrary standards in response to dockless scooters, which are preventing the growth of business in markets where demand obviously exists (2). For example, when Bird, a dockless scooter company, launched in Los Angeles, California, it was an immediate hit because residents could travel a short distance in a short period of time, but when the city started receiving complaints, Los Angeles decided to outright ban the scooters pending further regulations (3). According to Bird’s spokesperson and head of policy, Bird does extensive legal research about city laws to make sure that their launch is not in violation of any existing laws (2). From California to Massachusetts, the list of cities outright banning dockless scooters as a preventive measure is lengthy. The bans are more often than not temporary, yet the regulations that follow the lifts of those bans may stifle business to similar effects.
Regulations enacted in a city following an inundation of dockless scooters are to be expected; it is natural for business growth and safety to go hand-in-hand. Many of the regulations imposed, however, are so onerous and unrelated to public safety that dockless scooter companies are leaving many of the cities in which they were previously thriving (2). Regulations that cities are imposing include operating fees on each scooter, annual fees, caps on fleet sizes, and much more. These overbearing regulations are causing dockless scooter companies to leave markets, like Washington D.C., where strong demand for quick and easy transportation exists (2).
Because U.S. cities can be such large markets, implementing regulations that are not too restrictive can be difficult. Some cities are implementing unnecessarily cautious regulations that will hurt business growth in the long run. However, other cities are taking approaches that one could call a “regulatory soft touch” (1). San Antonio, for example, was overrun with dockless scooters seemingly overnight; there were over 300,000 scooter rides in one month alone (1). This rapid growth posed the same problems in San Antonio as many other large cities. Rather than following the same overly strict regulatory framework as they did with Uber, though, San Antonio is instead following a more lenient approach. They are running a sort of test program that lays out broad, common sense rules for pedestrian and rider safety and will adjust accordingly after a test period of six months has ended (1). This is clearly the freer approach to governance, and it comes as no surprise because it is clear that people are adjusting to dockless transportation; experts in the field have noticed that as the dockless scooters become a more normal part of everyday life, people are learning to live with them more safely (2).
*(1). Iszler, Madison. “Are the dockless scooters here to stay?” The San Antonio Express-News, 24 Dec. 2018, www.expressnews.com/business/technology/article/Are-the-dockless-scooters-here-to-stay-13487608.php. Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.
*(2). Lazo, Luz. “Dockless bike, scooter firms clash with U.S. cities over regulations.” The Washington Post, 4 Aug. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/dockless-bike-scooter-firms-clash-with-us-cities-over-regulations/2018/08/04/0db29bd0-9419-11e8-a679-b09212fb69c2_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e66f70be38bc. Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.
*(3). Mancuso, Kate. “The Rise of Electric Scooter Regulations.” The Regulatory Review, 3 Jan. 2019, www.theregreview.org/2019/01/03/mancuso-electric-scooter-regulations/. Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.
Nicholas Moayad is graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and International Affairs. He is a JMI Intern.