E-Scooters coming to North Highline; Many questions remain unanswered
In early October the King County Council approved a pilot program that will introduce e-scooters to North Highline. The one year program is due to start in November. The idea behind it said Councilmember and sponsor Joe McDermott is "increased mobility."
These stand up, electric powered vehicles are getting a mixed reception in cities across the nation and raise questions that in some cases are not finding complete answers.
At the September 17 meeting of the Council's Mobility and Environment Committee 25 year White Center resident Cindi Falkey rose to speak to those issues.
She was concerned about basic sidewalk walkability in the area since she believed the scooters will likely be used on sidewalks (and the King County Sheriff noted there is no law prohibiting this). She noted that while a roundabout is being installed at 102nd and 8th Ave SW there are no sidewalks as part of the project. She pointed out that "there is a dumping already of regular scooters" discarded when damaged and said, "the area by the White Center Pond is one of the biggest dumping areas." She experessed concern about people not wearing helmets in the area even though the King County Sheriff's office says, "Helmets on scooters are not required by state law" but are required for bike riders.
Note: These scooters have a maximum speed of 15 mph and are allowed on the road, which means you will see them on Ambaum Boulevard SW where the speed limit is 35 mph, 1st Ave South, also 35 mph, 4th Ave SW and others.
King5 News noted that cities like Dallas saw a spike in emergency room visits and that Portland, Oregon had problems with sidewalk parking, and helmetless riders.
The Sheriff's office said, "As far as scooters on sidewalks, again there is no law stating they can't but it is suggested they don't ride scooters on the sidewalks and the company itself will usually urge people not to ride on the sidewalks. If we see someone driving recklessly then we will stop then and talk to them about the dangers of driving to fast or being negligent and possibly hurting someone but we won't be actively patrolling scooter riders unless we see something or someone calls with an issue with someone riding one."
Councilmember McDermott said the companies, likely Lime and Bird would carry the liability for the people. But that's far from the end of it. InsuranceJournal.com notes: "Despite the dangers, riders are exposing themselves to liability and are most likely not insured for the damages they may cause. A rider’s personal health insurance — if he or she has it — could help defray the cost of their own medical bills in case of an accident. But it’s another matter entirely when a scooter rider hits and injures a pedestrian, damages someone’s property or causes a car accident. The rider may be held responsible, and most insurance policies will not cover those expenses." The story goes on to say, "The two largest scooter companies in the U.S. — Bird and Lime — generally place the responsibility for accidents on riders by listing in their rental agreements that riders relieve the companies of liability. Customers must agree to those terms to ride."
The InsuranceJournal.com story also states,"Riders in the U.S. took 38.5 million trips on shared scooters last year, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Within a few days of Chicago’s recent electric scooters launch, LegalRideshare got calls from injured riders asking for help."
This past spring the city of Austin Texas codified their rules regarding what they referred to as "shared micro-mobility service" vehicles. They ban them from sidewalks, in certain parts of the city and DO require helmets to be worn.
But injuries are only part of the issue. To pay to ride, you must have a credit card and a smartphone. But the pattern thus far has been to introduce rides at a low cost then escalate the cost, sometimes by as much as double. In a WashingtonPost.com story they noted that a ride that at first cost $2.80 in April had more than doubled to $7 in September.
The Sheriff's office said of the e-scooter test, "This is obviously a pilot program and something new to the area, the scooters will shut off if they cross Roxbury from our understanding and the hope is it can help people to get to and from the bus or work in the area easier. We will be monitoring the situation and see how the program works."