Dwight Merriam Describes the War on Dockless Scooters

Scooters. Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on unsplash
Scooters. Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on unsplash

“One of the country’s leading land use lawyers, Dwight Merriam, reports on the backlash against the scooters abandoned on the streets and sidewalks, causing serious injuries to pedestrians and blocking the way of people in wheelchairs.”

Electric scooters have taken over the streets and sidewalks of many U.S. cities and towns. “Scooter rage” has erupted with reports of angry college students in Santa Barbara, California, burying them in the sand and divers recovering 37 of the miscreant two-wheeled vehicles from the bottom of the Willamette River, in Portland, Oregon, thrown into the river by those who have come to despise them.

The problem with the so-called “dockless scooters” is that they have no place called home and are tossed aside on streets, sidewalks, and front lawns with no consideration of the impacts. Atlanta defines them broadly: “Shareable Dockless Mobility Device: an electric/motorized or human-powered device that permits an individual to move or be moved freely, is available for rent to the general public for short-term one-way trips without the installation of any infrastructure in the public right-of-way and shall include but not be limited to a bicycle/e-bicycle, scooter/e-scooter and shall exclude any motor vehicle required to be registered with the state, in accordance with state law.”

Now, finally, people have had enough and are headed to the courts to get relief. The backlash against the failure to regulate and enforce is just beginning, but it is real and portends a growing wave of efforts to bring order to the chaos.

The grievous injuries that result from people tripping over the scooters are graphically described in a California state court suit brought last year, Borgis v. Bird Rides. Joan Howell, for example, allegedly tripped over one left on the sidewalk outside a coffee shop and suffered injuries to her left hand, both knees, lower back, and pelvis.

In addition to those tripping over them, are the many people who depend on assistive devices for their mobility, including wheelchairs and walkers.

In January, Disability Rights of California brought a class action in federal court against the City of San Diego, Bird, and Lime under the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar provisions of California law. The complaint in Montoya v. City of San Diego begins with this description of the problems:

“This action challenges the failure of the City of San Diego and private companies to maintain the accessibility of the City’s public sidewalks, curb ramps, crosswalks, and transit stops for people with disabilities, in the face of an onslaught of unregulated dockless scooters. Private scooter companies have been allowed to appropriate the public commons for their own profit, regardless of the impact on the City’s residents. Persons with mobility impairments, including people who use wheelchairs or walkers, and people with significant visual impairments are thereby being denied their right to travel freely and safely on our public walkways.”

The first named plaintiff is Alex Montoya. He’s a congenital triple-amputee resulting from birth defects that left him without both arms and one leg. He is fitted with prosthetics but finds it impossible to navigate the pedestrian paths littered with carelessly discarded scooters.

Another one of the plaintiffs is Aaron Greeson. He’s blind and now is virtually trapped in the Blind Community Center because of all the scooters blocking his path: “I’ve already fallen twice because of the scooters. I don’t want it to happen again.”

A lawsuit is also underway in Los Angeles. In late 2018, Mia Labowitz brought a class action, Labowitz v. Bird Rides, in federal court, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated against Bird and Lime and the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills, claiming strict products liability, negligence, and public nuisance, among others things, and alleging numerous injuries from tripping over e-scooters set adrift and the loss of accessibility for those with physical disabilities.Mia Labowitz is a paraplegic and relies on a wheelchair for her mobility, now severely restricted by the dockless scooters. She alleges scooters not only block her way but pose a risk to her and others, including those who are visually impaired, when the scooters operate in the pedestrian rights of way.

There will undoubtedly be more of these cases claiming the scooters are unsafe, that riders are put at risk in using them, that pedestrians and others are injured by them either directly in collisions or being run down or by tripping over them, and that local governments share part of the blame for not regulating their operation.

Dockless doesn’t work, creates a public hazard, and greatly impedes the mobility of many of our citizens. Local governments need to tame the beast with good planning, reasonable regulation, and a requirement that the scooters and bicycles all have a safe place to be parked, and are properly parked when the riders are done with them.

About Dwight Merriam:

Dwight H. Merriam has practiced law for four decades. He represents land owners, developers, governments, and individuals in land use matters. Dwight is a Fellow and Past President and of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a former Director of the American Planning Association, a former chair of APA’s Planning and Law Division, a former chair of the American Bar Association’s national Section of State and Local Government Law, the Connecticut member of Owners’ Counsel of America, a former Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, a member of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute National Advisory Board, a Fellow of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, a Counselor of Real Estate, a member of the AARPI, and a Fellow of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers.

Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.