Three Takeaways from the Lime Electric Scooter Education and Safety Summit

July 19, 2019

On July 11, Lime, the micromobility company, hosted policymakers, academic researchers, advocates, law enforcement officials, and other transportation and public health practitioners for a summit aimed at improving design and operations safety for the new industry of shared electric scooters and bicycles.

The summit occurred amid evolving discussions of what role micromobility devices play in the long-term mix of urban transportation options; the extent to which safety is attributed to regulatory, design, or behavioral factors; and the kinds of data micromobility companies should be required to share with the cities where they operate. These and other topics were addressed in summit discussions, and are summarized in the following key takeaways.

This moment presents an opportunity to think proactively about evolving transportation needs in cities

When automobiles first became available for mass consumption over 100 years ago, regulations governing their use were not yet in place, resulting in what was often referred to as “chaos” as a mix of operators – pedestrians, bicyclists, children playing, horses, streetcars, and now automobiles – attempted to safely navigate the streets. Initially, there was little consideration for how to manage this new arrival to city streets.

The transportation mix on today’s streets is evolving. Between 2000 and 2017, bicycle commuting grew 43% nationwide. Ridehailing services like Lyft and Uber have proliferated. E-commerce increases the demand for delivery vehicles on roads. In response, cities are beginning to change the “rules of the road”. These changes include engineering and design (e.g. expanding bike lane miles), planning (e.g. piloting designated pick-up and drop-off zones for ridehailing services), and policy (e.g. banning right turns at red lights).

As we witness a new era of technological advances shaping mobility, decision-makers have an opportunity to proactively decide what the goal of city streets should be and how best to achieve those goals. For example, in the face of high motor vehicle traffic fatality counts (almost 40,000 per year) and increasing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector (most of which are attributed to light-duty vehicles), cities around the country have outlined plans for Vision Zero and climate action. These plans recognize today’s new challenges, and show that officials are beginning to think about how to address them. Similarly, there is an opportunity now to think about how best to integrate micromobility services, whether city-owned bikeshare systems or privately-owned dockless electronic scooters, into existing mobility services.

Riders, governments, and companies share responsibility for safety

Given the diverse interests represented by conference attendees, many conversations centered on who has primary responsibility for ensuring safety as this new industry integrates into the existing mobility landscape. In short, the answer was that governments, companies, and riders alike play roles in creating an environment that is safe for all road users.

Governments can designate protected bike lanes and micromobility parking facilities for scooter riders and bicyclists, while maintaining roads in good condition to enable safer riding. Scooter companies can build durable hardware and work with cities to design safe facilities for operating and parking scooters. For riders, just as it is incumbent on a vehicle motorist to know and abide by traffic laws and to be attentive of others when sitting behind the wheel of a 3,000+ pound automobile, so too is it incumbent on a scooter operator to understand where to operate and park the scooter and to be aware of his or her surroundings.

Governments, companies, and other stakeholders like law enforcement can also facilitate good behavior through rider education, but without safe infrastructure – streets that are narrower to encourage slower automobile speeds, leading pedestrian and bicycle signals at traffic lights, and installations that prevent automobile speeding during intersection turns, for example – road users of all types are less likely to behave safely. Throughout the summit there was recognition that designing a system that works for all road users and that enables safe behavior will more effectively achieve intended outcomes of reduced gridlock, emissions, and injuries.

Data standards can facilitate analysis of issues

As scooter fleets expand across the US, cities are increasingly looking to obtain more data from operating companies to inform policies regulating their use. Following the lead of Los Angeles, many cities have adopted Mobility Data Specification standards, which can provide cities with aggregated information about movement patterns.

From a safety perspective, information such as where collisions happen, who was involved (e.g. scooter riders, drivers, pedestrians), and whether scooters are parked illegally can be useful as cities decide how to regulate these services and invest in infrastructure changes. The challenge, though, is in achieving standards for reporting injury data. Variations exist between injury reporting from hospitals, police departments, and scooter companies.

A recent report from the Vision Zero SF Injury Prevention Research Collaborative demonstrated the differences in reporting between data from those three entities. Continued efforts should first seek to establish what information is important to collect. For example, rider self-reports, injury location, and who was involved in the crash may be useful information in addition to basic data like the type of injury. Then, uniform standards for reporting injuries and collisions can be established.

Furthering the safety agenda

As the micromobility industry continues to evolve, close collaborations between cities, public health officials, law enforcement, and companies can help to ensure that safety is the primary focus. In addition, existing advocacy networks representing bicyclists, pedestrians, older populations, and those with physical disabilities should be thought of as partners. This education and safety summit was a start at linking all of these stakeholders, and micromobility companies should continue to learn from others as they further the safety agenda.

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