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  • The City of Phoenix has launched its pilot e-scooter rental program in downtown.
  • The program, which involves around 900 scooters from vendors BIRD, SPIN, and Lime, will run for 6 months while the City tracks its progress.
  • The scooters themselves come with a number of strings attached, including a Driver’s License requirement, a prohibition on sidewalk-riding, and a GPS-enabled geofence.

Prepare for the scooters!

Starting today, about 900 scooters will be placed around Downtown Phoenix and offered for rent to anyone with a Driver’s License, Smartphone, and a credit card.

The scooters are part of a pilot program launched by the City of Phoenix to see how things go as riders and vendors take to the streets with the scooters, which have attracted lots of regulatory attention since appearing on the scene just a couple of years ago.

Since then, multiple U.S. cities have struggled with how to balance the convenience and mobility of the scooters with community complaints about them, namely regarding unsafe sidewalk-riding and indiscriminate parking. In designing the pilot program Phoenix consulted several of these cities, including Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles, to learn from their experience in their effort to design fair and effective regulation.

The result was a multi-faceted approach:

Sidewalk-riding prohibited

Riding the scooters on sidewalks will be prohibited; scooters will need to be operated either in the bicycle lane or on the street of a bicycle lane is not present. To avoid too much mixing of scooter and regular vehicle traffic, the city has committed (at least on paper) to rapidly expand our network of dedicated bicycle lanes in the downtown area. Under lobbying by the City of Phoenix, the State of Arizona also recently passed a law giving scooter operators the very same rights and responsibilities as bicyclists.

Age and Driver’s License requirement

A valid Driver’s License is required, meaning you need to be 18 or older. Driver’s Permits will not be accepted. Vendors will require you to enter your license information into their app and receive confirmation before renting a scooter. In case you were wondering: Yes, you can get a DUI on an e-scooter, it’s already happened.

Speed Limits

All vendor-owned e-Scooters will be governor-limited to 15mph.

Geofencing and restricted zones

All the scooters are equipped with GPS. During this pilot program (and perhaps permanently) the scooters will only operated inside of a boundary drawn around downtown Phoenix. Inside the boundary, there are also several ‘restricted’ zones that have been set up at the request of the community or property holders. Going outside of the boundary or venturing into any of the restricted zones will cause the scooter to drop its speed to only 4mph, or about walking pace, and may eventually stop altogether.

e-Scooter pilot program boundaries. Area outlined in dark red dashes indicates pilot program boundary.
Red-shaded areas indicate restricted zones where scooters will slow to 4mph.

Parking requirements

One of the biggest complaints from the community involved scooters being left leaning against buildings, in the middle of the sidewalk, or laying across front yards. To address this, the city has set up over 400 designated parking spots for the scooters, designated by a white pole bearing a scooter symbol. The vendors’ apps will not allow a ride to be ended until the scooter is parked in one of these locations, which will appear in a map on your phone.

Retrieval requirements and operating hours

All scooters will have a sticker with a number you can call if you encounter an abandoned scooter. The vendor will then have 2 hours to pick up the scooter or the city will do it for them and charge the vendor an $80 fee. In an effort to prevent overnight theft, all scooters (even the parked ones) will also need to be picked by the vendors up by midnight and be back out no earlier than 5 AM.
Once you’re set up in your favorite vendor’s app, scooter rides should be pretty straightforward – Scan the QR code and go. Cost and pricing structure varies between vendors, but a ride across downtown should set you back about $5-10.

A new way to get around

If the pilot program goes well, e-scooters may prove long-term to be a fun, convenient, and inexpensive method of getting around downtown. If the program goes really well, we may even see an expansion of the boundary area.

Ultimately, the scooters may become an important complement to the light-rail system, providing a link between the rail stops and the surrounding communities. There is a good portion of commuters who either can’t afford a bicycle or would rather not worry about schlepping one around and possibly getting it stolen, and they’d certainly appreciate the option of just picking up a ride from their curb and leaving it at a spot near the rail station.

Time will tell whether these scooters become an essential part of the transportation landscape, or end up simply leaving property and business owners feeling frustrated. But in either case, it’s a 6-month pilot program; that’s what these tests are for!

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