Give the scooter a chance to play role in Miami’s mobility
If governments in 1900 had greeted automobiles like we’re greeting the electric scooter, we’d still be in horse-drawn carriages.
Fortunately, the Automobile Age dawned in laissez-faire days without the over-regulation common in the Scooter Era.
Largely unregulated, automobiles multiplied like mechanical rabbits, filling our streets and our lives. They came to define the nation.
In the early days, automobile truly ran wild. Most towns required no license plates, no car registrations, no driver’s licenses. We had no parking rules, and certainly no parking fees.
Despite mounting automobile-related deaths – mostly pedestrians – as late as 1930 there were no speed regulations whatsoever in 12 states.
But with a concerted effort by automakers, laws did spring up in the 1920s – against pedestrians. Jaywalking offenses never existed until automakers sought to get pedestrians off the roads. Crosswalks weren’t needed, because before the automobile you could walk across a street anywhere.
Today, as we complain of near-gridlock in Miami, any modes to get around that don’t give primacy to the automobile face barriers that the auto never met. That’s true of bicycles, which merit more far consideration for mobility, and now of the scooter.
As scooters arrived two years ago, they met red tape. When cars appeared Miami had one government. Scooters ran into 35 local governments, many regulating scooters with a rules that would amaze laissez-faire lawmakers of the last century.
By trying to protecting everyone from everything – a costly reach for the impossible – governments have either banned scooters or regulated them so heavily that it’s a wonder the many operating companies keep trying.
Miami, for example, first ordered all scooters off its streets, then set operating rules that were to last a year but were cut to just six months and, upon expiration, were modified with more and more costly add-ons, and then two weeks ago approved again for just two more months.
Try to run a company with costly equipment on the streets when you don’t know whether you can stay and every few months you face new hurdles.
We’d list all of Miami’s rules, but the list for allowing a scooter ride grows and grows. Suffice to say that, on top of its already mind-numbing list, the city just added a driver’s license scan, two spot checks a month, a $100 fine for unregistered drivers, a display of each scooter’s registration in huge figures, and an order that riders photograph the spot where they park.
It’s not that all regulations are bad. But we’re piling up rule after rule, cost after cost, and uncertainty after uncertainty. If we’d done that to autos, today we’d be saddling up a horse each morning to trot to work.
The main claim is that scooters are dangerous. Two Miami commissioners say they don’t want scooter injuries on their conscience, so they’ve written the law so that they have none – no scooters, that is. Scooters are limited to just one commission district out of five. Limit cars like that and you’d have a revolt.
It’s true people do get hurt by scooters. They also get hurt on bicycles and walking. People are injured by the thousands in auto accidents, but we don’t see commissioners so conscience-stricken that they try to keep us from walking or biking or driving in their districts.
Nothing is totally safe. Even at home we suffer slips and falls. If we try to legislate perfect safety we get perfect immobility. The trick is to minimize danger while also minimizing red tape.
Scooters fill a niche for mostly young riders in the first and last mile of a trip, linking to and from mass transit. The average ride is a mile and a half. Though they look like toys, professionals in suits mount them in Brickell and downtown to zip through molasses-speed traffic. One head of a very large law firm sees them as essential mobility for associates.
Think of this: every time an electric scooter zips by, you’re not battling another car in traffic or breathing its emissions.
But if the scooter is going to be survive, it needs help.
First, don’t regulate it to death. Give it a chance before writing enough laws to choke a horse – or a scooter.
Second, coordinate our cities. When one Miami commissioner doesn’t want scooters in his district, think about whether we’d do the same with bicycles or automobiles.
Third, give scooter firms clarity. It’s hard enough to try something new without limiting everything to short trials. Who is going to rent a repair and storage facility for a two-month trial?
Fourth, don’t exclusively franchise scooters and prevent them from crossing city lines. If we’d done that with cell phones we wouldn’t have any.
Fifth, don’t fix problems that don’t exist. In the admirable urge to protect us from everything, regulators will keep anything from gaining a toehold by creating a laundry list of costly rules just in case one might help.
Sixth, there are legitimate concerns about scooter parking, where they’re ridden and who rides them. But there also are real concerns about automobile parking, traffic lanes and some drivers who don’t follow the rules. Don’t handicap scooters.
The scooter might be a short-lived fad. But the only way it can fill a small mobility gap is if we give it a chance to help.