From Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director
Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on the Auto Tech Watch blog on February 10, 2019. All the articles linked have not been updated.
I was exercise walking in my local park last fall and suddenly out of nowhere, a young woman on a scooter zipped past me and we almost collided. She cut me off as she headed for the grass to take a short cut. Not only was this rude, but scary. As someone walking on a path that is not a street, I don’t feel the need to wear safety gear. I deliberately walk there so I don’t have to contend with any streets. I’m sure this type of experience happens every day in America when inexperienced folks are using rideshare products (bikes and scooters). It’s become the Wild West out there and people are getting hurt.
Bike and scooter shares have become ubiquitous with the word micromobility. Reading some anti-car reports, you would think that micromobility will be the best thing to replace our cars.
Who are we kidding? I live in Wisconsin, and at the end of January it got down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit with roads and sidewalks caked in ice that could not melt due to the cold. I don’t know too many people who would ride a bike, a scooter or even drive in that mess.
A recent Greeley, Colorado editorial hits the issue on the head: When Did Driving become a Problem that needed to be Solved?
A Micromobility Conference
At the end of January, the Bay Area held a Micromobility Conference. Organizers billed the event online as “an event focused on unbundling the car with lightweight electric vehicles.”
For me, the contrast to this idea is insane. Just in the past two weeks, a number of articles were posted on just how unsafe these lightweight electric vehicles really are:
- E-Scooter Ride-Share Industry Leaves Injuries and Angered Cities in its Path (from Consumer Reports)
- Texas: Amid E-Scooter Safety Concerns, Austin Asks the Center for Disease Control or CDC to Investigate Injuries (from Governing.com)
- Electric Scooters are popping up in Cities across the Country. But are they Safe? (Time Magazine)
Cities are struggling with how to deal with these electric bike/scooter shares. For example, many cities can’t decide how to classify scooters, and whether or not they should be ridden on the sidewalk, bike lanes or the street. Setting enforcement standards and speed limits also seems to be a problem. City officials are also concerned about liability. Here are a few articles that discuss these points and more:
- New York is still trying to figure out how to deal with e-bikes and scooters
- No ‘Electric Boogaloo:’ State of Florida makes it hard for cities to adopt powered scooters
- Why It’s Cities, Not E-Scooters, that are the Problem
- Ready or Not, Here Come the Electric Scooters to Sacramento
Any auto tech, just as any micromobility device, should never be thrown out to the public and let the survival of the fittest begin. This is exactly what these irresponsible micromobility companies have done. They decided to push into a city and set up their devices without many times even discussing this with city officials. There are big issues here and big implications for motorists.
In the CityLab.com article about the Micromobility Conference, the writer spends much time on the bigger issue of safety and insurance. Detroit based Automotive and Products Liability Lawyer, Jesse Halfon, who attended the event, said, “The fact that we don’t have a standard insurance infrastructure for micromobility products show how different it is from other markets. Any other market, any investor wants to have liability and insurance locked down from the start.”
All the money that goes for those injured on these devices plus all the money that is going into infrastructure for bike lanes and road diets just seems out of place when there is not enough money to fix streets, roads and bridges that more people use every day to go about their business.
Here are some recent articles that illustrate what I mean:
- Baltimore officials recently decided that they would have to shift funding from bicycle lanes because there is just not enough money to do everything.
- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently stated that there are not enough people biking to warrant dedicated bike lane enforcement. Remember, NYC is the biggest Vision Zero city in the US and this statement runs counter to that financially unsustainable program.
- A mobility report from San Francisco shows that bike trips are on the decline.
- The Seattle Times recently conducted a poll and found strong support for more transit — but not for bike lanes.
Just because something is different, disruptive and cool does not mean it is the best thing for the greater good. That goes for auto tech and micromobility.
Motorists need to speak up in these debates and don’t let the micromobility folks run all over your city. In the end, motorists are the ones paying for the streets through gas taxes and fees and we need to bring a stronger voice to the table and remind the city mothers and fathers that cars will not be going away anytime soon.