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E-Scooters: Phoenix’s Experience with E-Scooters

By: Daniel Saylor

With the proliferation of apps in the ‘sharing economy’ each vying for a spot in our lives do we have space for one more? Companies like Bird, Lime, and Spin are betting that the answer is ‘Yes’ when they bring their e-scooters to town.[1] Industry insiders are betting that e-scooters will revolutionize personal transportation but are they just another Segway?[2] When e-scooter companies first hit the scene in 2017, they took an aggressive approach, mirroring how ride-hailing giant Uber or hotel-substitute Airbnb flouted local rules by offering their services in the early 2010s.[3] The result for the e-scooter companies was a mixture of angry bureaucrats, e-scooter bans, and public backlash.[4]

Legislators, confronted with a myriad of safety and aesthetic concerns, are fighting back. Many cities have banned e-scooters outright.[5] Others severely limit their reach.[6] Some cities, still reeling from the rapid proliferation of ride-hailing companies, like Phoenix, Arizona, banned the e-scooters until they could come up with a comprehensive plan for their implementation.[7] How exactly can a city fit e-scooters in with neighborhoods that already have lots of cars and potholes, scarce bike lanes, and many first-time riders? Phoenix is running a pilot program to find out.[8]

The City of Phoenix launched its “E-scooter Pilot Program” on September 16th, 2019 after much deliberation and public input. The six-month pilot program allows e-scooter companies to apply for a permit and deploy rentable shared e-scooters at specific locations within the geographical boundaries of the pilot program. Three vendors were granted permits – Spin, Lime, and Bird.[9] The scooters are then rented through their respective mobile apps. One novel approach the City has taken is the geofencing of certain areas within downtown as no-ride zones.[10] E-scooters cannot operate outside of the boundaries of the pilot program or in no-ride zones.[11] Once rented, e-scooters must be ridden on the street or within bike lanes – they are not allowed on the sidewalk.[12] Once a ride is finished, riders must park the e-scooter in one of 400 designated parking zones in downtown.[13]

City officials will be on the lookout for noncompliance with the parking zones. If an e-scooter is found discarded outside of a designated parking zone, the city will notify the vendor and the vendor has two hours to relocate the e-scooter to a designated parking zone or risk the imposition of a $200 fine.[14] These fines are then passed on to the rider by the apps. To help combat the abandonment of scooters in non-parking zones, the apps require the rider to snap a photo of the scooter in a properly designated zone. Failing to upload the picture, even if the scooter has been parked in one of the designated zones, may result in the rider being fined.[15]

The rollout of e-scooters in Phoenix has been a mixed success. Two of the three vendors removed their e-scooters from Phoenix within a week because they failed to comply with the program’s stringent requirements.[16] Lime has since re-deployed their scooters in Phoenix after demonstrating to the Phoenix Street Transportation Department that the app technology now meets its standards.[17] The success of the pilot program will ultimately be decided by the Phoenix City Council in March. Until then vendors and riders will continue to enjoy e-scooters’ first foray into downtown Phoenix.

 

[1] See Megan Dickey, Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden to talk scooters, unit economics and a multi-billion-dollar valuation at Disrupt SF, TechCrunch (Sept. 25, 2019), https://techcrunch.com/2019/09/25/bird-ceo-travis-vanderzanden-to-talk-scooters-unit-economics-and-multibillion-dollar-valuation/

[2] See Adam Hartung, The Reason Why Google Glass, Amazon Fire Phone and Segway All Failed, Forbes (Feb. 12, 2015), https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamhartung/2015/02/12/the-reason-why-google-glass-amazon-firephone-and-segway-all-failed/#7c6325dbc05c

[3] See generally Elise Furlan, In Cities Outside Portalnd, Scooters Were Banned, Thrown in the Ocean or Smeared With Poop. They Kept Going., Willamette Week (Aug. 21, 2018), https://www.wweek.com/news/2018/08/21/in-cities-outside-portland-scooters-were-banned-thrown-in-the-ocean-or-smeared-with-poop-they-kept-going/,

[4] See generally Laura Newberry, Must Reads: Fed-up locals are setting electric scooters on fire and burying them at sea, Los Angeles Times (Aug. 10, 2018), https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-bird-scooter-vandalism-20180809-story.html (“[E-scooters] have been crammed into toilets, tossed off balconies and set on fire.”);

[5]  See Andrew Hawkins, Nashville is banning electric scooters after a man was killed, The Verge (Jun. 21, 2019), https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/21/18701299/nashville-electric-scooter-ban-man-killed, Daniel Castro, E-Scooter Bans Show Cities Are Hesitant to Embrace Innovation, GovTech (Mar. 2019), https://www.govtech.com/opinion/E-Scooter-Bans-Show-Cities-Are-Hesitant-to-Embrace-Innovation.html

[6] See generally Zachary Heinselman et al., Scooter Wars: Local Approaches to Regulating Shared Mobility Devices, League of California Cities (May 9, 2019), https://www.cacities.org/Resources-Documents/Member-Engagement/Professional-Departments/City-Attorneys/Library/2019/Spring-2019/5-2019-Spring;-Heinselman-Scooter-Wars-Challenges.aspx

[7] Jen Fifield, Electric scooters are technically already banned from Phoenix-area sidewalks. Remember go-peds in the ’90s?, AZCentral (Feb. 5, 2019), https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/glendale/2019/02/05/laws-90-s-allow-arizona-cities-ban-electric-scooters-gopeds/2738769002/

[8] Phoenix, Arizona, Municipal Code § 31-80(b)

[9] E-Scooter Vendor Information, City of Phoenix, https://www.phoenix.gov/streetssite/Pages/E-Scooter-Vendor-Information.aspx

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Phoenix, Arizona, Municipal Code § 36-304

[13] Phoenix, Arizona, Municipal Code § 36-305

[14] Phoenix, Arizona, Municipal Code § 36-305(E)

[15] Steven Hsieh, Lime and Bird Are Already Breaking Phoenix’s E-Scooter Rules, Phoenix New Times (Sep. 18, 2019), https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/lime-and-bird-are-already-breaking-phoenixs-e-scooter-rules-11359970

[16] Steven Hsieh, Lime and Bird Pull Scooters From Downtown Phoenix After Breaking Rules, Phoenix New Times (Sep. 23, 2019), https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/lime-bird-scooters-downtown-phoenix-parking-geofencing-11362302

[17] Steven Hsieh, After Complying With City Rules, Lime Scooters Will Return to Downtown Phoenix, Phoenix New Times (Sep. 25, 2019), https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/lime-bird-spin-scooters-phoenix-rules-parking-sidewalks-11363565