The Rise of Electric Scooter Regulations
Bird is the largest of several electric scooter share companies operating in cities worldwide. Scooter users download an app to locate and unlock the motorized scooters, then rent them by the minute. The scooters are dockless and tracked by GPS, so users can park them anywhere at the end of a ride instead of returning them to a designated location.
In theory, these programs are similar to bike shares like Indego, Divvy, and CitiBike, which offer short-term bicycle rentals within certain cities. But the sudden rollout of motorized scooters on city sidewalks—sometimes without warning—has demanded rapid regulatory responses from city officials.
In Los Angeles, where Bird unexpectedly launched last fall, many residents eagerly adopted motorized scooters as a short-distance transportation option. But the city government also received immediate complaints.
According to scooter share companies, users are supposed to ride scooters in bike lanes and park them near bike racks. But in practice, riders often zoom along sidewalks. Users also park scooters where they block pedestrian traffic, frustrating other residents.
Los Angeles issued a cease-and-desist letter to Bird in June 2018, demanding it to “remove any and all vehicles” from the city. But the letter also stated that the city had a “pending regulatory process for permitting scooters” which, if adopted, would allow Bird—and similar companies such as Lime and Spin—to operate scooter shares legally.
Since then, Los Angeles City Council approved a city-wide dockless vehicle pilot program. The program invited Bird and other companies to establish scooter shares by following new rules about permitting, parking, and maintenance. The regulations include a requirement for companies to have a 24-hour contact person available for “emergency removals” of scooters.