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Dangers of Dockless Scooters in Philadelphia

By: Anapol Weiss

Dockless, or electric, scooters from sharing companies such as Bird and Lime may soon become a mainstay on Philadelphia streets. While the companies advertise their scooters as safe and eco-friendly ways to commute around town, they have also become a dangerous nuisance.

Reports from other states of abandoned units on sidewalks and users illegally operating the scooters have many citizens worried about what will happen when dockless scooters arrive on the scene in 2019.

Unfortunately, like much of the sharing economy, dockless scooters fall under the scope of evolving areas of law and will likely cause further controversy when they do come to town in the near future. PennDOT does lay out regulations on a fact sheet which says that electric scooters are not allowed on sidewalks and roadways.

Lack of Oversight

Many communities throughout the United States lacked proper preparation or oversight for the electric scooters, which has led to unforeseen consequences during the implementation process. Cities from coast to coast are dealing with citizen and business owner complaints regarding public safety.

  • Bird, Inc. advertises that users can leave their units “anywhere” and a representative will come and pick it up via a GPS tracking device. Unfortunately, some users are taking this literally, abandoning scooters in front of businesses and in the middle of the sidewalk for pedestrians to trip over.
  • As motor-assisted transportation, dockless scooters should technically operate on the street. However, that has not stopped some users from dangerously operating on sidewalks and putting pedestrians in harm’s way.
  • Hospitals around the country have noted an uptick in emergency department visits related to the scooters. In some cases, hospitals report that the users are under the influence of alcohol.

In response to reports around the country regarding the hazards of dockless scooters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sought to examine their effect on public health. They compiled data on the 11,000 dockless scooters operating throughout the country, researching hospital data and recording information from EMS reports.

The study concluded in November of 2018 but the Center is yet to release the findings. However, one report from a Salt Lake City hospital noted a 161% increase in scooter-related accidents since they arrived in the metropolitan area.

How Can Philadelphia Prepare?

Fortunately, the city of Philadelphia can learn from other cities and take certain steps to enhance public safety and improve accountability for companies who distribute the scooters throughout the metropolitan area. Larger cities, particularly around the Bay Area in California, have passed sweeping ordinances that aim to control the companies while giving citizens an opportunity to benefit from having the dockless scooters around.

  • Charging the sharing companies a fee per unit to have the dockless scooters operate in the city can help instill a sense of responsibility and encourage sharing companies to take better care of the units around town.
  • Creating dedicated parking or docking spaces for the scooters can help remove the clutter on city streets and reduce the dangers to pedestrians.
  • Enforcing rules regarding proper operation, such as requiring motorized scooters to use the street, can help cut down on accidents involving pedestrians.
  • Some cities require dockless scooter companies to put limiters on their scooters so they cannot travel faster than a set speed. Many officials throughout the United States feel this is necessary to control the speeding issue that presents a danger to pedestrians on sidewalks and in crosswalks.

Dockless scooters may soon be a common sight in the metro area. In order to assure public safety, officials should take steps to control the dockless units around town and mitigate the risks to both the users and other pedestrians. With a little planning, the city can enjoy the benefits of the scooters without the threat to public health.