Electric scooters have hit Sacramento: Are they safe? Legal? Here’s what you need to know

Sacramento streets are about to get zippier, and perhaps more crowded and dangerous.

Jump, the company that brought electric bikes to town last year, introduced the first 100 rentable electric scooters in Sacramento and West Sacramento on Friday.

It’s an addition to the mobility scene that excites some, alarms others, and is prompting a lot of questions. Where can you ride scooters? Do you need a license? Are riders going to bowl innocent pedestrians over?

Here’s your guide to what you need to know before you rent and ride:

What exactly is an electric scooter?

It looks like a slightly large old-school standup scooter, with a platform to stand on and upright handlebars. The big selling point: It has a small electric motor on board, set to go up to 15 miles per hour. Yes, there’s a hand brake as well.

How do you rent them?

The first scooters to hit town are owned by Jump, an Uber-owned company. You rent them via the Uber app – which now includes cars, bikes and scooters – that you download onto your smart phone. The app shows you were the nearest scooter is parked.

Where can you ride them?

They are motorized and that means you must ride them on the street. You can ride them in traffic lanes if the street speed limit is 25 or lower. If it is higher, you can only ride them on that street in a marked bike lane.

There is a sticker on the floorboard reminding riders not to ride on sidewalks.

Don’t people just leave them lying on the sidewalk?

That’s been a problem in other cities. Under Sacramento rules, you have to park them at bike or scooter racks, not on the sidewalk. If you leave a scooter on the sidewalk, the city is planning new regulations this spring that allow it to issue a $27.50 fine to Jump or any other scooter rental company.

Scooter companies will, however, be allowed to impose their own fees on scofflaw riders. Jump officials say they are still discussing how they will handle that.

Can kids or young teens ride them?

No. The scooters are motorized, so riders must have a driver license. Jump limits riders to age 18 and older. “Riders can only register a scooter through the Uber app, and they need to verify that they are 18 when they register,” Jump’s Sacramento manager Alex Hagelin said.

What about carrying insurance?

The city is requiring Jump or any other bike or scooter rental company to carry at least $1 million in insurance per incident.

Do you have to wear a helmet?

Not if you are 18 and older, under state law.

How dangerous are they?

E-scooters are so new that there aren’t comprehensive crash studies. But Consumer Reports reported this week it tracked 1,500 injuries nationally in 47 cities since late 2017, based on a sampling of hospitals and public agencies.

UCLA recently did a study based on scooter injuries at two Los Angeles hospitals and found that head injuries were most common, followed by broken bones. Lesser injuries were less likely to involve a hospital visit. Several scooter riders hit and injured pedestrians, but most crashes involved the scooter rider running into an object. In some cases, the scooter was hit by a car.

Where is the scooter rental zone?

It’s the same area, for now, as the Jump bikeshare zone: mainly the central city in Sacramento and most of West Sacramento. Sacramento’s proposed city ordinance would require scooter companies to place at least 20 percent of their fleet in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

How do they lock?

They don’t have a physical lock like Jump bikes, but the wheels won’t roll unless you “unlock” them via your app. They won’t physically connect to the rack. They’ll just stand next to it. They have a tiny kickstand.

What other controls is the city putting on them?

The City Council is expected in March to pass regulations that include fees the city would charge the companies to operate in Sacramento. The city would then use that revenue to build parking spaces that can be used by scooters and bikes.

Even though it is launching its scooters here, Jump is not pleased. “The new fee structure decreases our appetite for growing the fleet in Sacramento and serving more communities,” Hagelin said in an email.

Are Bird, Lime or other companies coming next?

They are interested, but they don’t like the fees the city intends to impose, which they say are much higher than in other California cities. Companies would need to pay five times more to operate in Sacramento than they pay to operate in Berkeley, Marlo Sandler of Bird said.

“The proposed fees will limit most scooter companies from being able to operate here,” Sandler said. “This goes against the grain of the city’s business-friendly culture and values around innovation.”

Jump officials also are not pleased.

Are scooter riders suddenly going to be darting everywhere?

No, at least not yet. Jump is bringing just 100 scooters to start with. The city plans to limit the number of scooters in each three-month period, and to monitor their usage. “We want lessons learned, so we don’t get saturated,” city of Sacramento transportation specialist Jennifer Donlon Wyant said. The city ultimately can put a cap on the number of scooters allowed.