Despite Safety Concerns, Phoenix Electric Scooter Proposal Zips Along

Ray Stern
Two young men driving two scooters together in Tempe last week. Phoenix is zipping ahead with its own program to put electric scooters in its downtown area, despite safety concerns.
The city of Phoenix is moving forward with a proposal to put scooters in downtown Phoenix, despite some concerns about safety.

The scooters would be part of a pilot program that would last six to 12 months. Meanwhile, city staff said explicitly that they wanted to get the program rolling for the sake of the scooter companies. The full council is scheduled to hear the proposal in March.

“We’re trying … to make sure this program is available for the vendors as soon as possible,” Kini Knudson, the director of Phoenix’s Street Transportation Department, said during city staff’s presentation on Tuesday to the Aviation and Transportation Subcommittee.

So far, the proposed program has gotten support from a business alliance in downtown Phoenix, but the city hasn’t formally checked with ordinary residents for their opinions.

Nevertheless, the proposal easily cleared the first hurdle on its way to full City Council. A presentation from city staff lasted 10 minutes, and only a few questions came from Councilwomen Debra Stark and Felicita Mendoza. (The third subcommittee member, interim Mayor Thelda Williams, arrived late, after the presentation and most of the questioning was finished.)

The pilot program would not allow scooters on sidewalks, meaning they’d be in the streets next to cars going much, much faster. Most scooters have a top speed of about 15 mph.

Mendoza, saying she was concerned about safety, asked about drinking and scootering, and who would be held liable in the event of a crash.

The answers came back: If city ordinances are changed, police could issue civil citations to people who are caught scootering while intoxicated. As for liability, it would depends on who’s at fault.

Stark wanted to hear directly from the scooter companies directly about liability.

Bird? Lime?” she called out into the audience. “I know you’re here.”

A representative from Bird tentatively walked up to the public microphone. Users have to sign a comprehensive user agreement that lays out liability, she confirmed.

The councilmembers sat back, apparently satisfied.

Mendoza had one other request: She asked that the data analysis portion of the pilot program start after 90 days, instead of later than that. From there, all three members passed the motion to recommend the proposal to City Council.