No one seems to follow the rules. Do you see helmets? No. Are scooters only on the sidewalks? No. Only one person per scooter? No. During an afternoon outing on a scooter, our writer found people enthusiastically riding them, but not following the rules.
As the A-Line train to Union Station pulled out of Central Park Station, I overheard a bicyclist chatting with a couple who were in town for a bachelor and bachelorette party. “You’re supposed to ride them on the sidewalks,” the bicyclist said. The couple wanted his advice on getting around the city and the new dockless electric scooters entered the discussion. “Because they’re technically toys,” the bicyclist said, referencing Denver’s regulations that prevent the scooters from being used on roadways or bike paths. “Legally you are supposed to wear a helmet too,” added another passenger, joining in on their conversation.
Coincidentally, I hopped on the train to check out the new scooters myself. They launched twice this summer—the first time, in May, without warning. The City and County of Denver told scooter companies Lime and Bird to remove their vehicles while they worked on a pilot program. They introduced certain limitations and regulations, such as limits to the number of scooters each company can operate and guidelines on where riders can use and park the vehicles.
“Sometimes I ride on the sidewalk,” admitted Victor Adetoye, adding, “I don’t think you are supposed to.” (Ironically, sidewalks are the only place the scooters are allowed to go). Since it is easier to ride in the bicycle lanes, Adetoye assumed that was where he was supposed to be. As the manager of a nightclub in Larimer Square, he says the scooters have made it easier for him to run errands throughout the day. “They’re easy—people like easy.”
Although I saw dozens of people riding scooters that afternoon, many of them rode in the bike lanes or in the street and none of them wore a helmet. Christian Jones, who works downtown in real estate, uses the scooters frequently for several short trips throughout the working day. He said he was in the bike lanes “all the time” too, the only way to get around pedestrians and take advantage of the speed electric scooters afford riders.
After finally snagging a scooter for myself (several in the Larimer Square area were either low on charge or listed as non-operational by the time I tried in the mid-afternoon), it easily hit 16 mph– a little bit above its supposed 14.8 mph top speed. Robert Jones, a NE Denver resident checking out the scooters for fun with his wife, said scooters are a lot faster when they are charged up more. The two sped off quickly after trying to swap one of their dying scooters for the one in front of me on the sidewalk.
In my hunt for a scooter, I passed a neatly lined up row of Bird scooters in front of the Magnolia Hotel. Each was listed as broken or under-charged. Jahsonte Evans couldn’t comment on those particular scooters, but said the hotel was a bit of a hot spot and they were good for the hotel business, “especially for the tourists.”
With my own scooter secured, I read most of the user agreements and entered my credit card information to actually rent the vehicle. Both companies’ apps outline general rules and call attention to special regulations in Denver. In the main body of the text the companies recommend staying off of the sidewalks, while the addendum for Denver states they can only be ridden on the sidewalks. I have to admit, I did a little of both—and forgot a helmet too.
“There are no repercussions for breaking the rules,” said Alex Reshetniak. He said he saw lots of scooter riders running lights and riding against traffic on one-way streets. They are hard to look for, he said, because of how much faster they can move compared to what pedestrians expect on the sidewalks. “This is a public space set aside for pedestrians,” Reshetniak said.
Other cities have had more violent growing pains while incorporating the new technology, with some people in San Francisco and Los Angeles burning and destroying some scooters.
While the implementation in Denver was calmer, it will be interesting to see what happens as the industry grows and matures. At the moment, only Lime and Bird operate in Denver. But the city approved permits for three more companies to bring hundreds more scooters and another three companies to bring dockless electric bikes in the near future—with the Uber owned “Jumpbike” having launched mid-August. That growth will be built on a peculiar foundation: stringent regulations in place but users simply breaking those rules in practice.