Our View: Should the e-scooter pilot continue?

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(Photo credit: Missy Schrott)
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There are two basic questions in the decision tree regarding the future of commercial e-scooters in Alexandria: Should they exist? And if so, how should restrictions on their use be enforced?

Everything else flows from those two questions – one existential and the other practical.

When a city considers whether a new technology is worth the disruption, the key factor is whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. One of the posited benefits to scooters is their use in commuting the last mile to the Metro or to work. An examination of the data on scooters, however, would seem to indicate that usage is not particularly widespread.

In today’s Alexandria Times page 1 story, “The future of e-scooters,” the data reveals that while 201,340 scooter trips took place between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 in Alexandria, there were 114,510 separate users.

This averages to fewer than two rides per user, meaning a significant majority of the users were joyriders who only took one ride – or at most a few rides – not vast numbers of commuters who rely on the scooters for daily transportation.

Most people who have ridden the e-scooters say they’re fun. Most people who have ridden ponies also say they’re fun. Who didn’t secretly want an e-scooter, pony or motorized mini-bike while growing up? But is that reason enough for the city to spend our tax dollars and disrupt the life and endanger the safety of residents, mainly in Old Town – where 65 percent of the rides have taken place – while essentially playing the part of fairy godmother?

Anyone who seriously wants to use an e-scooter on a regular basis to commute to and from work or the Metro would be much better off financially and safety-wise buying their own scooter and helmet.

Safety is the other main reason Alexandria would be better off saying “no” to commercial e-scooters. It’s simply not safe for e-scooters to operate either in the roadway or on sidewalks in a city as dense and with roads as narrow as those in Alexandria.

Scooter riders, mostly without helmets since they’re not required, are un-safe on the streets. And pedestrians and their dogs, particularly in Old Town, are at great risk from scooters if they’re allowed on sidewalks.

If city council decides to allow a second e-scooter pilot – and make no mistake, if there’s a second year-long pilot then scooters are here to stay – any specific provisions in the pilot are meaningless without effective enforcement mechanisms.

Effective enforcement mechanisms do not exist in the current pilot, nor in the phase two proposal, which renders this draft recommendation moot on arrival. As Old Town Civic Association Vice President Yvonne Callahan said, enforcement needs to be legal and not civil. Meaning the onus should not fall to residents to “police” this program, but on the city and scooter companies.

There are many reasons why scooters shouldn’t be allowed on sidewalks, but a key one is that there’s no way in this proposal to enforce the 6-mph speed limit. If the scooters are programmed with a 15-mph cap, the allowed speed on roads, then nothing is going to prevent riders from going that fast on sidewalks. And they will be a menace to every pedestrian and dog in their path at anything close to 15 mph.

If the city is serious about enforcement, then the onus must be on scooter companies to ensure compliance with requirements. And the only way to make that happen is to hit the companies hard in the pocket- book. A few possibilities are to fine the scooter company $250 each time:

• a person under age 18 is caught riding a scooter without an adult;

• two or more people are caught riding a scooter at once;

• a person under age 14 is caught riding without a helmet;

• someone is caught riding a scooter in a disallowed area, such as Market Square or Waterfront Park;

• a scooter is found deposited somewhere other than in a corral;

• a scooter rider runs a red light or stop sign; or

  • a scooter is caught going more than 6 mph on a sidewalk.

These fines would bring in significant revenue, meaning the city could pay for dedicated police officers to be posted seven days a week in Old Town to enforce the rules. It is clear that without financial pain to scooter companies and the active involvement of city police, there will be no meaningful enforcement of a second pilot.

City residents shouldn’t have to co-exist with this invasive species. But if our elected leaders decide to plow ahead, it’s vital that they do so with effective enforcement mechanisms in place.

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