Nick Hankins, MJLST Staffer
The hottest trend in on-demand transportation is the emergence of electric scooters. Two of the biggest suppliers of on demand scooters, Lime and Bird, have invaded cities across the country. Scooters are a quick, easy, and cheap way to travel short distances; riders can simply find a scooter, sign into the app, and go. They also have the added benefit of servicing gaps within a city’s public transportation system. Despite the benefits that these companies can bring to a community, Lime and Bird have significant legal hurdles to overcome.
Problematically for cities, pedestrians, and probably the scooter companies, is that unlike bike sharing platforms, once a rider is done with a scooter it is simply left discarded. Both Lime and Bird encourage their users to park their scooters close to the curb, away from walkways, driveways, ramps, and fire hydrants. However, in practice, scooters tend to be left strewn across the middle of sidewalks and other undesirable places. Aside from being a public nuisance, unaware pedestrians have been injured after tripping over misplaced scooters.
These features have caused a big headache for cities especially since companies like Bird and Lime generally install their scooters in cities without seeking prior approval. However, the do-first-and-ask-forgiveness-later approach has begun to haunt companies that attempt to cut cities entirely out of the process. For example after Milwaukee tried to ban Bird’s scooters (and Bird’s subsequent refusal to remove its scooters), Milwaukee moved to seek a temporary injunction to immediately have the scooters removed. Additionally, after failing to secure the proper business licensure and vendor permitting, Bird had to settle a dispute with the City of Santa Monica for $300,000 and an agreement to run a weeklong public safety campaign on public buses. Other cities like Saint Paul, San Francisco, and Indianapolis required scooter companies to temporarily remove their scooters until regulations could be firmly decided upon.
Aside from legal complications stemming from municipal regulation, scooter companies may soon have to defend their products in court. As the electric scooter craze is gaining traction, riders are increasingly ending up in the emergency room in horrific scooter-related accidents. The types of injuries involved in these accidents are varied. Some accidents have to do with the laissez-faire storage practice as pedestrians trip over discarded scooters. Other injuries involve user error. In one case, for example, a rider crashed into a 2 year-old who was walking out onto a sidewalk. Likely the most problematic injuries for scooter companies, involve technical malfunctions (especially those involving the breaks). Accordingly, it’s unsurprising that personal injury lawyers are beginning to chase scooters in hopes of getting their next big payday.
In short, Lime and Bird offer a unique solution for people who need to travel short distances. However, both companies will soon have to figure out ways to work with cities and how to avoid tort exposure.
As an aside, both companies will also have to deal with whatever fall-out comes from having teens charge their scooters.