Concerns about Scooters

photo from SDOT blog

INTRODUCTION: In September 2020, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) asked City Council to allow for-profit companies to put thousands of e-scooters on certain parts of Seattle’s sidewalks so those companies could then charge people who ride the scooters on Seattle’s streets. While interested in another alternative, environmentally friendly mode of short-distance transportation, I shared the concerns not only about safety expressed by experts from Harborview’s Injury Prevention and Research Center but also about the lack of data from other jurisdictions who had reported problems with scooters programs. After much consideration, I was the lone vote on the City Council against this new program. This blog post tracks some of the history of the scooter program.

APRIL 8-21, 2022 UPDATE: SDOT finalizes its first-year evaluation of its e-scooter share program

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) recently finalized its evaluation of the first year of its e-scooter pilot program. To read SDOT’s 54-page evaluation of their scooter share program’s first year, CLICK HERE and, for their appendix about their customer survey, CLICK HERE (Note: SDOT’s appendix about their customer survey does not provide the full comments made by people injured while using a scooter.) To read SDOT’s summary of their evaluation on SDOT’s blog, CLICK HERE.

I remain concerned that SDOT has not collected complete data on injuries and the data collected thus far seems to show a large percentage of injuries that SDOT and the private scooter companies will need to address. This concern is shared by experts at Harborview’s Injury Prevention and Research Center. From page 6 of SDOT’s evaluation: “Of the 5,189 respondents who had used scooters, 11% reported experiencing an injury.” That’s 570 reported injuries just from those who received the survey and chose to respond (5,189 x 0.11 = 570.7 injuries / 12 months = 47.5 injuries per month.) This excludes the police report data and hospital data.

The Seattle Times asked me for comments about SDOT’s scooter evaluation and I provided the following statement:

I’m concerned that SDOT’s evaluation of their scooter program’s first year did not fully assess the safety questions raised at my Transportation Committee in December 2021,” said Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4, Northeast Seattle). “I was the lone vote against authorizing the scooter program in September 2020 due to safety concerns expressed by officials at Harborview’s Injury and Prevention Center, so I want to be cautious in my assessment. But SDOT’s own evaluation shows that at least 570 people suffered injuries while riding scooters which averages to 47 injuries per month — and that does not even include data from Seattle’s hospitals or police reports.  Their evaluation says safety is SDOT’s top priority but we still need answers to our questions about hospital injury stats and how the quantity and type of scooter injuries in Seattle compare to scooter injuries in other cities, so that we can learn more from other cities before allowing the private companies from expanding this risky program in Seattle.”

For the news stories from KIRO 7 TV, CLICK HERE and for KOMO TV, CLICK HERE. For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.

DECEMBER 15, 2021 UPDATE: First annual review by SDOT

I had asked our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to return to our City Council Committee on Transportation & Utilities to provide their first annual report on their new scooter pilot program.

In the Fall of 2020, SDOT convinced a majority of the City Council to approve the new program; as explained below I voted against that initial authorization. SDOT’s report this week was upbeat, but it was missing vital hospital data on injuries, even after SDOT failed to follow through on an independent UW safety study it had promised when convincing City Council to authorize the new program. I am asking SDOT to follow up with injury data from hospitals.

I’m relieved that SDOT continues to view this program as a “pilot” rather than a permanent program because scooters are certainly under scrutiny. For an incisive and relatively critical analysis by SCC Insight (Kevin Schofield) of SDOT’s first year of this program, CLICK HERE. At the same time, I’m hopeful scooters — if properly regulated for safety — can be successful by serving a subset of Seattleites as a viable and clean “first-last mile” transportation solution without taxpayer subsidies (other than providing our public streets for travel and sidewalks for storage).

For a copy of SDOT’s annual report presentation, CLICK HERE. To view the December 15, 2021 meeting of the Transportation Committee, CLICK HERE.

For an incisive and relatively critical analysis by SCC Insight (Kevin Schofield) of SDOT’s first year of this program, CLICK HERE.

ORIGINAL POST: September 8, 2020

On September 8, 2020, I voted against scooters in Seattle and here’s why:

I support improved mobility options by encouraging environmentally friendly alternatives to gas-powered, single occupancy vehicles.  Ideally, electric scooters (e-scooters) would provide an alternative for some trips for some travelers. At the same time, the City government is essentially authorizing a new mode of transportation — thousands of scooters traveling within our streets and other rights of way. This is big change that warrants a careful tracking of the results.

I had been looking forward to a standard ‘pilot project’ on scooters that would measure results as we are seeing elsewhere in King County but, unfortunately, this SDOT legislation is not a real pilot project,” said City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, Chair of the Transportation & Utilities Committee. “The proposed legislation transmitted by SDOT to the City Council did not explicitly and fully address safety, financial liability, infrastructure costs, or measures for success.”

SDOT, however, said this legislation was time-sensitive, so I fulfilled my role as Transportation Committee Chair to facilitate discussion, ask questions, and enable my fellow Councilmembers to vote on it. While a majority of my colleagues approved it at my Committee on August 19 and at the full City Council on September 8, I was personally not willing to vote yes for something that, in my opinion, lacked details.

Both Council Bill 119867 and Council Bill 119868 totaled only 2 pages in length. The legislation essentially cedes ALL details of the program to the Executive branch. To retain some oversight role and to encourage a more standard pilot program that evaluates initial results, as Chair of the Transportation Committee, I sent a letter asking our SDOT Director to return to our Committee by next June and next December to report on specific metrics from the first 6 months and 12 months of the new program.  To view my letter to the SDOT Director, CLICK HERE.

Having SDOT report back to the Council Committee on specific metrics of success – that would be standard with a pilot program — will enable SDOT to report consistently and thoroughly to the Councilmembers and to the general public on the pertinent details and results so that, together, we can evaluate this new program. In my conversations with Director Zimbabwe, I have been assured the Durkan Administration also wants to measure the results of this new scooter program.

I believe we need to measure the results so that we can truly assess whether the program is safe, equitable, and effective in getting people out of their cars—all without requiring tax dollars to cover injury lawsuits or to build special infrastructure that would subsidize the profits of private companies headquartered outside of Seattle.

I want to thank Dr. Fred Rivara, founding director of the Harborview Injury and Prevention Center,  for his compelling letter in August expressing his concerns about the scooter safety by providing several studies from around the country showing scooters to be dangerous. To view his letter, CLICK HERE. To view an interview with Dr. Rivara, CLICK HERE.

I’d also like to thank the City Council blogger Kevin Schofield of SCC  for providing such comprehensive coverage of the scooter proposal on his website.

For one of the many news articles about the Council adopting SDOT’s scooter program, CLICK HERE.

For SDOT’s September 11, 2020 blog post about the 3 vendors they quickly selected, CLICK HERE. For SDOT’s scooter website, CLICK HERE.

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