They’re affordable and readily available. They reduce traffic congestion and provide flexible mobility without contributing to the state’s destructive air-quality crisis, and frankly, they’re fun. Electric-assist bikes and electric-powered scooters—e-bikes and e-scooters—are taking over Utah from the streets of Salt Lake City to the paths of Summit County. What could possibly go wrong?
Do the Side Hustle!
Bird Charging and Lime Juicing
Dockless e-scooters need to be charged from time to time, and therein lies the opportunity to increase your earning potential. Using the Bird or Lime app, switch into charging mode to see a map with scooters that need some juice. The closer a scooter is to empty, the more you can earn. Take a scooter home, plug it in, drop it off in a hot spot and enjoy your extra income.
For starters, things may have gotten too big too fast for the supply and demand balance. Two e-scooter companies, Lime and Bird have made scooters under riders zipping around the streets ubiquitous in Salt Lake City. Because the e-scooters don’t require a fixed charging station, they’re also littered across sidewalks, lawns and parking lots. Park City introduced the country’s first entirely e-assist bike share program, Summit Bike Share, in 2017. The program has been wildly successful by most metrics with riders racking up in excess of 100,000 miles, translating to roughly 17,500 trips from Kimball Junction to Main Street. In a municipality where the two primary concerns are traffic and parking, that’s no small feat, yet at peak times during the summer docking stations are frequently low on inventory.
Little public consensus exists on how and where to ride. It’s illegal, for example, to ride e-assist devices on sidewalks , but that hasn’t stopped riders from doing so. State code prohibits e-scooters from being used on roads with speed limits over 25 mph, which includes many of the Salt Lake City streets in which they’re currently popular. Revising the code to meet the standards set for bikes—30 mph speed limit and four or fewer lanes unless a bike lane is present—would help eliminate the contradictions between regulation and practical use.
Bird and Lime require both require users to upload a valid driver’s license to confirm they’re a minimum of 18 years age, though e-bike shares, including Summit Bike Share, do not. It’s hard to say whether users are purposely sidestepping regulations or are simply unaware of laws governing e-scooter and e-bike use, and authorities throughout Utah have prudently supported education over heavy-handed enforcement thus far.
“It’s a classic case of innovation outpacing regulation,” says Jason Hargraves, insurance expert and managing editor for insurancequotes.com. Hargraves notes the dangers of having such a litigious society in which thousands of people are operating in an insurance blind spot within a regulatory gray area. Users agree to “binding arbitration” before using e-bikes and scooters, which leaves them with little to no legal recourse in the event they’re injured.
“For most two-wheeled vehicles that travel over 30 mph operators are required to carry liability insurance. Most e-scooters and e-bikes top out between 15-20 mph, so there’s no regulatory definition for them Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance won’t cover users, and auto insurance is typically only for four-wheeled vehicles. Currently the best protection comes from having your auto insurance provider write up a special policy,” Hargraves adds.
Beneath the surface a public health issue is growing. Though no national data exists on e-scooter injury numbers, reports from health care providers suggest a surge in associated accidents, and many users aren’t wearing helmets. Helmet-share programs present a logistical nightmare involving hygiene, fit, theft and more, and riders aren’t bringing their own. Both Bird and Lime have distributed tens of thousands of free helmets to protect riders’ gray matter, but they’re also lobbying against helmet laws that would limit ridership. San Francisco is proactively confronting the issue through Vision Zero Injury Prevention Research to study, quantify and ultimately eliminate traffic injuries including those related to e-bikes and e-scooters. Officials in Utah would be wise to emulate the Bay Area’s safety efforts.
Despite the issues, e-scooter and e-bike use isn’t slowing down any time soon. The industry has become so profitable that Ford jumped into the ring, spending a reported $100 million to purchase the relatively small e-scooter company Spin in late 2018. Ford apparently sees the profitability in collecting data on scooter-share users. When was the last time unencumbered corporate data aggregation went wrong?
Both Salt Lake City and Park City have been urging people to ditch their cars, and take public transportation, which when coupled with innovative mobility programs means more people can get where they’re going, with less congestion and environmental burden. Commuters are doing their part, and it’s time our municipal governments catch up to the e-bandwagon to help work out the kinks.
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