Scottsdale Looks at Ending Old Town Night Scooting After 86 Accidents

Benjamin Leatherman
In better times, this group of Oakland A's fans used electric scooters to take them between bars in Scottsdale's Entertainment District.
If your post-pandemic plans involve ending a night of Old Town debauchery with a nocturnal scooter ride back to your Airbnb, you may be out of luck.

The Scottsdale City Council is considering a proposal to put the brakes on e-scoot-pades in the city's central Transportation Safety Zone between 11:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.

"A lot of that time is where we've had the majority of our emergency response calls. So we wanted to minimize those time frames," Mark Melnychenko, the city's transportation and streets director, told Phoenix New Times on Tuesday.

The crackdown comes after a city report found that 86 of the 138 scooter-related medical incidents the Scottsdale Fire Department responded to in 2019 occurred inside the one-mile-square safety zone bordered by Camelback Road to the north, Miller Road to the east, Osborn Road to the south, and 68th Street to the west.

The report also found that only around 12 percent of rides occurred during those hours, but nearly a quarter of scooter emergencies did.

Unsurprisingly, HonorHealth, which operates the local emergency room, reported that 66 of the 112 patients it saw due to scooter trauma incidents involved alcohol. More than 60 percent of the patients were men and the average age was 24, although one was 66 years old.

click to enlarge The Transportation Safety Zone covers one square mile of central Scottsdale. - CITY OF SCOTTSDALE
The Transportation Safety Zone covers one square mile of central Scottsdale.
City of Scottsdale

Melnychenko said the proposal comes not as the result of any particular complaint, but in response to the report, which was commissioned by the city council when it tightened scooter regulations in 2018. The initial report was actually completed in 2019 and presented to the city's transportation commission last January, but it has taken until now to come to the council due to COVID-19 delays.

Other measures from the report being considered by the council include a ban on scooters on sidewalks inside the zone at any time of day, only allowing them to be parked in designated bike racks, charging fees if the city impounds scooters for not being in designated parking spots, and banning riding them off-trail in public parks. City staff are also recommending a licensing program for scooter providers, but that's further off.

At a meeting on Tuesday night, councilmembers were generally receptive to the proposals, but voiced concerns that the proposed language meant to also apply to e-bikes would be too harsh on bicyclists using sidewalks.

“I lived in this city before we were a bike-friendly city," said Vice Mayor Solange Whitehead. "The last thing I want to see is kids in the street."

Councilmember Tom Durham agreed, noting that he had recently been riding his bike on the sidewalk.

Councilmembers also suggested ending the restriction on scooters closer to 4 a.m. to facilitate early morning exercisers. 
click to enlarge The majority of calls the fire department has to scoot to in 2019 are inside the central area of Scottsdale. And way up north for one unlucky person. - CITY OF SCOTTSDALE
The majority of calls the fire department has to scoot to in 2019 are inside the central area of Scottsdale. And way up north for one unlucky person.
City of Scottsdale

A representative for Bird, one of the two scooter companies currently operating in Scottsdale, read a prepared statement at the meeting that said the company agreed with the new regulations but was concerned about the impact of the bike-rack requirements in areas outside the city center.

"Our request is simple: infrastructure should be in place before the parking policy rolls out," Morgan Roth, Bird's "government partnership team" member, told the council. He said the company was asking for a phased-in approach to any such mandate.

The other scooter company operating in Scottsdale, Spin, did not respond to a request for comment. Minutes from the city's transportation commission show that a local lobbyist hired by the company touted its ability to limit where scooters can operate as well as its proprietary scooter stations. The lobbyist pointed out that many cities had limited the number of scooter companies allowed to operate in them.

Besides that, the number of scooters and rental bikes on Scottsdale streets has declined dramatically as companies have gone out of business or paused operations due to COVID-19.

"It's not as big an issue right now... it's very manageable," Melnychenko said. "But, I think what we aim to do is make sure we set up those guidelines, because we're hoping in the near future there'll be more interest."

He said that using the data from 2019 is helpful because it paints a picture of the situation when scooter use wasn't impacted by COVID-19.

Yet scooters were certainly a concern for some in 2019. The report notes that the mayor and council received 221 emails from 37 people about the scooters in 2019. The city also received 737 reports about rental bikes or scooters through its web-reporting tool.

A summary of those reports from the first half of 2019 shows that a number of the messages were repeats or follow-ups on earlier complaints. One, that begins "my recent visit to Scottsdale was horribly marred..." before cutting off, was submitted three times on March 30. However, most were regarding improperly parked scooters. Such complaints are forwarded directly to the scooter companies.

click to enlarge Phoenix New Times has found in the past that scooter companies aren't always the best about policing parking locations. - STEVEN HSIEH
Phoenix New Times has found in the past that scooter companies aren't always the best about policing parking locations.
Steven Hsieh
The Scottsdale Police Department also issued 246 citations in 2019 regarding the scooters. Around 90 percent of tickets were against the scooter companies for not picking up misplaced scooters promptly, and overwhelming occurred over the summer, when police targeted the scooters. Only seven arrests were made due to reckless riding or riding under the influence.

The two companies with the largest share of citations, Lime and Lyft, had both pulled their scooters from Scottsdale pre-COVID-19 due to financial issues.

The report includes an analysis of social media sentiment provided by the service Zencity, which found that 70 percent of the online posts about the scooters in Scottsdale were "neutral," 21 percent were "negative," and 9 percent were "positive."

The potential scooter licensing program the city is considering would require companies to pay to obtain a license, show proof of insurance, and share data with the city. The cost of the license would range from $10,000 to $100,000 per year depending on the number of scooters, and would average out to $100 per scooter each year, or more if companies do not deploy the full allocation of scooters the license allows. The city sees this partially as a way to recoup costs for medical responses to scooter incidents and enforcing scooter rules.

Scottsdale has pursued a more laissez-faire approach to the scooters than some other Valley cities, and the new regulations and proposed licensing would still be less strict than requirements in Tempe, which demands more expensive licensing, and Phoenix, which only allows scooters to operate in its downtown.

After discussing members' concerns, the Scottsdale City Council sent the proposed measures back to city staff to look at questions about bike usage on sidewalks and in the city's pedestrian mall, as well as the issues raised by Bird about bike racks outside of downtown.

In the meantime, this may be your last chance to cruise on a scooter through central Scottsdale with the wind in your hair. Just don't hurt yourself — and stay away from other people.