Electric scooter companies neared a major victory Wednesday in their effort to bring rentals to more California city streets.
Backed by Bird, one of the state’s leading e-scooter rental companies, the Assembly sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill allowing anyone 18 or older to ride an electric scooter on city streets without a helmet.
Current law requires riders of stand-up e-scooters to wear helmets when traveling on roads. The devices typically have handlebars, a floorboard and an electric motor of less than 750 watts.
California law requires those devices to travel no faster than 15 miles per hour. They are not allowed on sidewalks but can travel on some streets and in bike lanes. That would remain the case under Assembly Bill 2989.
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The measure by Assemblyman Heath Flora, R-Ripon, also would allow scooters on streets with a speed limit up to 35 mph. Currently, the scooters are banned from any street where speed limits surpass 25 mph.
Bird, a Santa Monica-based company, has scooter rentals in a handful of California cities, including Fresno, as well as cities nationally and internationally. Other companies that provide scooter share in California include Lime and Spin. The rental programs, similar to bike share rentals, offer urban residents an alternative to cars and buses for short trips.
The rental scooters have not yet made it to the capital city. But Bird and other companies are in talks with Sacramento officials about doing so.
Bird chief legal officer David Estrada said his company wants the new legislation to even the playing field among bikes and scooters. Under state law, adult bicyclists are not required to wear helmets, but stand-up motorized scooter riders are. The change would allow people to “more easily embrace sustainable shared mobility options,” Estrada wrote in an email.
He said his company encourages riders to wear helmets, however. The company says it has given away 40,000 helmets this year.
A Senate analysis of the proposed law noted that a study of 6,000 bike-related injuries found riders wearing helmets had a 52 percent lower risk of brain injury and a 44 percent lower risk of death. The analysis notes there is little information yet on the safety issues involved with motorized scooters.
Many scooter users already ride without helmets despite the requirement. E-bike renters typically do as well, including those using Jump Bikes in Sacramento.
Dave Metcalf, a Sacramento nurse, expressed alarm. “Those things are going to be liabilities,” he said. “Wait until the first subdural hematoma happens.”
The main complaint so far about electric scooters has been that users drop them off anywhere, cluttering sidewalks and getting in pedestrians’ way.
San Francisco temporarily banned the devices this summer after complaints that users were winding dangerously - and illegally - past pedestrians on sidewalks and often would dump the rental scooters on walkways, creating tripping hazards.
San Francisco officials say they intend to allow scooters back on city streets in the coming weeks under a new permit program, and on a test or pilot basis.
Several scooter companies, including Bird, have expressed interest in bringing their scooters to Sacramento. The city, though, has a scooter and bike ordinance in place that would require scooter companies to install 1.5 scooter or bike racks for every scooter introduced in Sacramento, city transportation planner Jennifer Donlon Wyant said.
That appears to have stopped the scooter companies so far from coming here, because they are not yet equipped to provide parking racks.
Wyant said the city, however, is working with the companies on new rules that will allow them to introduce scooters here, with assurances that the devices will not block sidewalks or cause other safety issues. She said she is in discussions as well with pedestrian advocates, advocates for the blind and disabled and others.
“We’re trying to take a more thoughtful approach,” she said. “Does it make sense to have bike racks, or are there other types of racks? Where should they be parked?
“We want to make sure the sidewalks are clear and curb ramps aren’t blocked. The best way is to create places to park them.”
Wyant said the city likely will require scooter companies to compensate the city for staff time involved in creating and overseeing the ordinance.
Kirin Kumar of WalkSacramento, a pedestrian advocacy group, sent a letter to the city last month stating that the scooters should not be allowed on sidewalks, and that the city must ensure that the devices have some sort of parking facilities so they are not “left laying on their side or parked upright in a way that impedes the pedestrian right of way.”
Jim Brown of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates said he hopes the arrival of electric scooters to Sacramento will help push the city further in creating safe bike lanes.
“So long as scooter share can help get people out of cars, that serves the interests of people on bikes,” Brown said.