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Washington State could set scooter-share guidelines

A bill in the State Legislature would lay out a general framework, but leave cities free to make their own rules

A Bird scooter on a sidewalk in Tacoma.
VDB Photos/Shutterstock

A bill winding its way through the Washington State Legislature would set a basic, statewide framework for electric scooter shares, even as Seattle continues to shy away from letting scooters into its landscape.

HB 1772 lays out some state guidelines for the operations of electric scooters, defined in the bill as a vehicle with two or three wheels, a handlebar, and a foot platform, and leaves the door open for cities and other local jurisdictions to set their own rules.

“It’s time for the scooter revolution,” said State Representative Nicole Macri, the bill’s sponsor, introducing the bill to the House Transportation committee in February. Macri represents District 43, which includes part of downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, Madison Park, South Lake Union, and the University District. “In fact it’s really it’s time for a revolution in how we get around. We’re seeing that happening particularly in our larger cities around the state bike share, scooters, car shares, et cetera.”

“These new ways of getting around help us with those short, point-to-point trips and with the last mile from other transportation, like mass transit,” Macri continued. She pointed to an Environmental Protection Agency report that found cutting back on just half of all car trips less than a mile would cut annual CO2 emissions by about 2 million metric tons.

While scooters aren’t in Macri’s home district in Seattle, they’re out on the road in Tacoma, and Spokane is setting rules for scooters after what the city calls “positive outcomes” from a Fall 2018 bike and scooter-share pilot.

In just over two months, people in Spokane took more than 108,000 scooter trips, compared to about 40,000 bike trips, which is significant with a city population of about 217,000. In Tacoma—which has a population just a smidge smaller—scooters have been around since September (first Lime, then Bird) as part of its own pilot, with more 100,000 trips on Lime scooters alone, according to the company.

In Seattle, the city has been dragging its feet, although some recent reporting from Geekwire indicates that the city is at least in contact with operators about scooter shares.

“As they become more prevalent, it’s time to really look at what kind of regulation they should have—regulation for safety, around how old you should be to ride them, how fast they should go, and how they should be operated,” said Macri. “This bill intends to start that conversation.”

If the bill passes, it would preserve the right of local jurisdictions to either prohibit or allow scooters—plus set their own fees for scooter operators, set rules for parking, develop their own penalties for rules violations, and maintain ADA compliance however they see fit.

While the bill maintains a state law that prohibits electric scooters (and, a throwback to last year’s session, class three electric bicycles) on sidewalks and pedestrian paths unless there’s no alternative, it allows local laws to take precedence if they say otherwise.

The bill would also change the state code to prohibit electric scooter use by people under the age of 16 and set the scooter speed limit at 15 miles per hour—but the bill clearly carves out an exception for local rules.

Other proposed changes to the state code include clarifying laws around operating and parking scooters on state highways—the rules would be the same as for bikes. It would also prohibit electric scooters, as electric bikes, on dirt pathways meant for non-motorized vehicles, although, again, local governing bodies could set their own laws.

The bill would also require scooter-share operators to carry commercial general liability insurance of at least $1 million per incident and $5 million total and auto insurance with a single limit of at least $1 million. If local law allows people under the age of 16 to use scooters, operators could be subject to additional insurance needs.

We just passed session cutoff in the legislature—meaning that if a bill didn’t make it from the House to the Senate or vice-versa, it’s not going anywhere this year. A few high-profile bills died, like one that would have allowed the use of traffic cameras to enforce rules around cars blocking crosswalks and intersections. (The Seattle Times transportation bill tracker is a good resource.)

The scooter bill, by contrast, has made pretty quick progress, emerging from the House on March 12. It’s scheduled for a hearing in the Senate transportation committee next week.

If the bill passes committee in the Senate, the next step would be full Senate approval. If it ultimately passes through the full State Legislature, it would head to the Governor’s desk for approval.