2021 | Government

UPDATED: County trying again to regulate use of e-scooters, require registration when they are made available to rent

Similar bill was introduced last year, but expired

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A Lime e-scooter parked in Silver Spring. County Council Member Sidney Katz is lead sponsor of a bill that would set various regulations on e-scooters countywide.

Photo by Steve Bohnel

This story was updated at 1:10 p.m. Oct. 29, 2021, to correct a description of the proposed bill. It would require e-scooters to be registered by companies that make them available to rent. Individuals who have e-scooters for personal use may choose to register them, but are not required to do so.

County Council members are considering legislation setting regulations and guidelines for a fast-growing mode of transportation, especially downcounty — e-scooters.

Council Member Sidney Katz is the lead sponsor of the legislation, which would set registration guidelines, dictate how and where the e-scooters can be parked, require safety measures and establish other regulations. It is co-sponsored by Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz.

E-scooters are electric scooters seen in many metropolitan and densely populated areas and meant to serve as another mode of commuting and travel. Many companies, like Bird, Spin and Lime, require users to unlock the scooter and pay for them through a smartphone app.

Katz said in an interview Tuesday that he introduced similar legislation last year.

But that bill expired on Sept. 3, 2021, before reaching a final vote. Katz said other priorities during the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that county officials urged people to stay home during the pandemic’s early months led to it expiring.

Katz’s latest proposal would require anyone younger than 18 to wear a helmet when riding an e-scooter in the county on a public street, right-of-way or bicycle path countywide. Riders must be at least 14 years old and not travel more than 15 miles per hour on the scooter, per the bill.

The bill also states that e-scooter owners may pay a registration fee to the county, although it doesn’t state how much. Individuals may register their e-scooter with the Montgomery County Police Department, but are not required to. However, companies that offer e-scooters for rent must register with the county’s Department of Transportation.

There are also several provisions for the way that e-scooters must be parked, including that they must be upright, not in bicycle lanes or areas reserved for sidewalk dining, not in transit zones except for designated areas, not on sidewalks that are five feet wide or less, and not parked in several other areas.

Each e-scooter must have proper lighting or reflectors to ensure visibility after dark and in other appropriate circumstances, the bill states.

Katz said in an interview that the reason companies would be required to register is because their e-scooters are often used by multiple people. Registration would make it easier for the county to contact the company, to let them know if they are illegally parked or if there are other problems. 

Asked for his reaction to the bill, Ben Ross, the chair for the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, said he hadn’t seen it before it was introduced Tuesday.

Ross wrote in a follow-up email that it would be difficult for e-scooter users to follow one rule of where not to park them: in loading zones. That’s because the loading zones are not marked with signage, he said.

“How are scooter users supposed to know where the loading zones are if there are no signs?” Ross wrote.

Katz said it’s important that sidewalks and other areas are clear enough for those with wheelchairs or other people who need space to get around.

Asked about the registration fees, he said he’s open to changes as the bill moves through the legislative process.

“This is not a money-making proposition. This is for safety,” Katz said of the bill.

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Nov. 9 at 1:30 p.m.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com