Facebook Twitter

Salt Lake e-scooter vendors will self-police, or else

SHARE Salt Lake e-scooter vendors will self-police, or else
merlin_11511.jpg

Lime Patrol member Isaac Jones, left, informs a scooter rider that riding on the sidewalk is illegal in downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. Members of the Lime Patrol will be visible in downtown Salt Lake City, particularly during the hours of heaviest use, and will ensure scooter users are aware of local riding rules. They will also help new users access the system and answer questions.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — City leaders are getting set to tap the brakes on the proliferation of e-scooter vendors in Utah’s capital, but they’re giving the current companies a chance to show they care about unresolved issues before the winnowing begins.

On Thursday the busiest of those vendors, Lime, hosted a media event downtown to announce an effort that will put employees on the streets to help thwart illegal sidewalk riding and inconsiderate scooter parking. Sidewalk riding in Salt Lake City’s downtown area is prohibited by ordinance for both scooters and bicycles, but has become the leading headache, according to city officials, since e-scooters first arrived here about 15 months ago.

The Lime Patrol launch appears to be a direct response to a throwdown email sent by Salt Lake City Transportation Director Jon Larsen on Sept. 16 to the four current providers of e-scooters — Lime, Bird, Spin and Razor — aimed at getting operators to self-police ahead of a revamp of scooter regulations now moving toward the Salt Lake City Council.

“We have a draft scooter ordinance that we are preparing to send the City Council within the next couple of weeks,” Larsen wrote. “Once this ordinance is passed we will transition from the pilot period to the longer term program. We are strongly considering a (request for proposals) to limit operations to one or two vendors in the city.

“The ability to show proven results on limiting sidewalk riding will be one of the top criteria for the selection process.”

Up to this point, e-scooter vendors have been obligated to sign operating contracts that establish some base stipulations about doing business in Salt Lake City, but Larsen told the Deseret News the agreements were always intended to be temporary, pending passage of new rules.

Under the current guidelines, the four companies are each allowed to deploy up to 500 scooters citywide, if they meet city requirements for wide distribution including areas underserved by transit. A dynamic capping carveout, one that extends the 500 scooter limit for those vendors that are seeing very high usage rates, has also been utilized by two of the vendors at various times.

But, incidents between scooter riders and pedestrians have been the bane of the operations since the first vendor launched in Salt Lake City in June 2018. Emails obtained in a Deseret News records request last December revealed scores of accounts in emails to Salt Lake City from pedestrians who experienced encounters with e-scooter riders.

“Every time we walk now, we have close encounters with electric scooters,” wrote one downtown resident who lives near City Creek. “Especially when they silently come from behind us. It is very frightening for us to be so vulnerable to accidents caused by these scooters.”

Alongside the negative issues related to sidewalk scooter riding, polling done by the city reflects a high level of enthusiasm for the two-wheelers by those who have ridden them. The systems operate via smartphone apps that allow users to locate and rent the vehicles. Current Salt Lake pricing varies from 25 to 32 cents per minute after a $1 unlocking fee. The scooters are designed to travel at no more than 15 mph.

Residents who participated in the 2018 city survey gave the dockless vehicles mostly high marks and cited convenience, fun, availability and ease of use as the top things they like about the systems. They also provided valuable input, according to city transportation experts, about how the scooters are being used. While “fun” was the leading response, getting around quicker, running errands, getting to work and connecting with transit rounded out the top five reasons to ride.

Jonathan Hopkins, Lime’s director of strategic development for the northwest U.S., noted Thursday that Salt Lake City riders are increasingly utilizing e-scooters to make critical first-mile/last-mile connections with public transit.

“We know that half the riders in Salt Lake City have used scooters in the last month to connect with public transit,” Hopkins said. “And, a third are using scooters to commute (to work).”

Hopkins said Lime Patrol staffers will monitor downtown during peak scooter usage throughout the week, and though they do not have enforcement authority, will be “gently reminding” riders that sidewalk riding is banned by city ordinance. Patrollers will also be on the lookout for poorly parked scooters and will be available to help new users develop thoughtful riding habits.

Spin has also launched a similar effort, and a spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski noted all four current operators have indicated they will participate in what the city is calling the “Walk Your Wheels” campaign.

How to best address enforcing the sidewalk riding ban has been a huge challenge, not just for Salt Lake leaders but for cities across the country. Portland, Oregon, officials have instituted a citation system for e-scooter malfeasance and is assessing fines of $15 for improper parking and $50 for illegal sidewalk riding. Enforcement personnel can take pictures that capture unique identifying numbers on the scooters’ front tubes and, using time stamps, the infractions can be matched with the riders via scooter vendor data, and fines assessed after the fact. Serial offenders can have their accounts suspended or canceled.

Larsen said the new scooter ordinance package will lay the groundwork for allowing the city to make further changes, as necessary, to ensure e-scooters remain a get-around option for Salt Lakers while addressing outstanding issues. He noted the goal is to have ordinances in place and the two ongoing e-scooter vendors chosen via a competitive RFP — request for proposal — process by spring 2020.