An e-scooter parked in Silver Spring. Credit: Steve Bohnel

County residents have seen their numbers growing in recent years — electric scooters that zip around roads and sidewalks, especially in urban and more populated areas of Montgomery County.

They come from different companies — Bird, Lyft, Lime, and Spin — and on Tuesday, the County Council passed legislation to regulate their use, along with personal e-scooters owned by  residents.

County Council Member Sidney Katz, who was lead sponsor of the bill, and Sandra Brecher, chief of the county Department of Transportation’s Commuter Services Section, said in interviews that although the law sets regulations for the use of e-scooters, its purpose was more to educate residents about the safe use of the vehicles and where they can be parked, versus actual enforcement of the new rules by police or other entities.

Miriam Schoenbaum, a member of the Action Committee for Transit — a local group focused on transportation issues — said she has no issue with the regulations related to e-scooter companies. 

But she had concerns about whether the law will be equitably enforced for all riders — citing concerns mentioned in the legislation’s racial equity and social justice impact statement.

“It depends on how the law is going to be enforced,” Schoenbaum said. “If the law isn’t going to be enforced, it will have no effect on anybody … whereas if the law is going to be enforced, I think the [council] staff reports of inequitable enforcement makes a lot of sense.”

The bill, which goes into effect in roughly three months — given that County Executive Marc Elrich signs it — establishes several regulations, including the following:

  • A person under 14 is not allowed to operate an e-scooter. Exceptions to this include use of an assistive mobility device and recreational scooters that travel up to 10 miles per hour. 
  • Riders may not travel more than 15 miles per hour on an e-scooter
  • A company that owns two or more e-scooters is required to register its fleet with the  Department of Transportation. The county executive’s office may set the registration fee.
  • Anybody under 18 must wear a helmet while operating an e-scooter. The civil penalty is $50, but the fine will be waived for a first offense.
  • Parking of e-scooters is prohibited on sidewalks that are 5 feet wide or narrower, sidewalk dining areas, loading zones, bicycle lanes, and other areas.

The legislation notes that county officials and associated vendors and a contractor, to be hired at $40,000 per year, will enforce the new law. County police are also listed as an enforcement agency, but the primary enforcement would be done by the contractor that the county hires, who will be tasked with traveling around the county and making sure riders comply with the above regulations. 

Katz introduced the legislation years ago when he started to hear from residents concerned about others using the e-scooters, particularly with how fast riders were traveling. Others then started to contact his office about issues with where users were parking the scooters and similar concerns, he added.

Brecher said county officials and third-party contractors they work with will notify Bird, Lyft, Lime, and Spin when scooters are parked in places that restrict pedestrian traffic and other issues. 

The e-scooter companies also keep track of where their scooters are parked, via GPS technology, and the county also works with Populus, a data aggregator hired by the county, to keep track of how many scooters are active and where they are, Brecher said. 

The county has had agreements with the e-scooter companies dating back to 2019, when memorandum of understandings were signed. The companies each provide an annual $10,000 bond, which allows the county to pay for removing scooters that are illegally parked and for other costs.

According to the county transportation department, there have been 600 to 800 e-scooters deployed daily in September. Weather and other factors can affect how many the companies deploy, Brecher said.

They are spread out and monitored using GPS technology throughout urban areas including downtown Silver Spring, Rockville, North Bethesda, Gaithersburg and Wheaton. County officials have not allowed scooters in Bethesda, as county officials were concerned about safety due to construction on roadways in that area of the county, Brecher said.

Brecher said e-scooters have been an essential mode of transportation for many, with trips averaging around 1 mile or a little bit longer. The new law is not meant to “put a kibosh” on the program that the county operates, especially when it comes to any type of enforcement. 

“I think if you had a group of people … riding inappropriately, then I would believe it would be incumbent on a police officer to take some action. Hopefully it would be educationally more than enforcement,” Brecher said.

E-scooters may not be operated outside of the hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Brecher said. County officials are looking at whether to expand those hours, given the rising popularity of the scooters and the need to serve commuters who work late shifts. She added that county officials are creating more scooter “corrals” countywide in order to provide more places for people to park them. 

Part of the reason for the bill, she said, was to address privately owned scooters, instead of those provided by the shared companies, as more people have purchased their own scooters in recent years. 

Miriam Schoenbaum, a member of the Action Committee for Transit — a local group focused on transportation issues — said she has no issue with the regulations related to e-scooter companies. 

But she had concerns about whether the law will be equitably enforced for all riders — citing concerns mentioned in the legislation’s racial equity and social justice impact statement.

“It depends on how the law is going to be enforced,” Schoenbaum said. “If the law isn’t going to be enforced, it will have no effect on anybody … whereas if the law is going to be enforced, I think the staff reports of inequitable enforcement makes a lot of sense.”

Shiera Goff, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Police, said police view the e-scooter law as similar to a state law requiring bicycle riders under 16 to wear a helmet. The primary goal for both is about education and safety, not issuing tickets or punishing riders, she wrote. 

“Officers will not be ‘stopping’ riders simply to verify their age and/or registration of the e-scooter,” Goff wrote. “Violations of this regulation are civil and not criminal in nature; officers have enforced the nearly identical bicycle helmet code for many years using this same goal without issue.”