When electric scooters descended on the University of Georgia campus and Athens last year, they were a public nuisance. After only a few days, UGA began impounding scooters on campus. By the end of the year, the Athens-Clarke County mayor and commission placed a temporary ban on the scooters. However, the fleet may soon take flight once more. On Aug. 23, the Athens Banner-Herald reported that the ACC Commission could soon release plans for a pilot project to allow rental scooters in Athens.
If implemented properly, electric scooters can provide cheap and quick transportation. However, to achieve that goal, ACC must address the scooters’ two biggest shortcomings — safety and parking.
Scooters can be dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Austin Public Health found in a study that there were 20 injuries for every 100,000 rides. This statistic likely underestimates the total number of injuries because it only counts people who received care from a hospital emergency department or emergency medical services. Revealingly, many riders were likely inebriated — 29% of interviewees said they had drunk an alcoholic beverage in the 12 hours before receiving their injury.
This study should concern Athens officials. The city has a reputation for having easily-available alcohol. In fact, according to The Red & Black, Athens has the most bars per capita in the U.S., suggesting the city could be especially vulnerable to scooting under the influence. To combat this problem, the county should limit access to scooters near bars by banning them at night in downtown.
The county must find a solution to parking as well. Riders often parked scooters illegally on sidewalks, and UGA impounded 1,096 scooters by Nov. 19 of last year. Besides being an eyesore, bad parking practices can impede others trying to use the sidewalk. Bad parking also undermines the companies’ attempts to be environmentally-friendly by putting scooters in dangerous places, resulting in shorter life spans and forcing companies to build more. A report by the Institute of Physics Publishing explains that scooters’ short life cycles and the high environmental impact of the manufacturing process make electric scooters less environmentally-friendly than an electric moped or bus with high ridership.
To solve this issue, ACC should work with scooter companies. The ACC Police Department issued citations to riders they caught breaking the law, but ACCPD can strengthen enforcement by communicating with scooter companies. For example, after impounding a scooter, police could tell the company when and where they impounded the scooter. The company could then find and penalize the culprit, ensuring that riders are held accountable for following the law.
Although electric scooters have caused problems in the past, the Athens community should be cautiously optimistic about the devices. If utilized properly, they can make short commutes easier and quicker. By carefully crafting regulation, we can create thoughtful policies to promote safe and respectful scooter usage.