By George Abunaw
BU News Service
BOSTON — Brookline resident Robina Folland was walking out of Whole Foods when she was almost hit by a rider on a shared electric scooter.
The near miss was not the first time, she said. Now Folland is wondering whether the town’s pilot program to allow the shared scooters is truly beneficial for the majority of residents.
“There seems to be a lack of understanding that they are subject to the same rules of the road bicycles and cars are,” Folland said at a town forum Wednesday night to discuss the merits of the scooter program.
Brookline was the first town in the state to embark upon a pilot program to allow scooters, bringing in about 400 motorized machines from three companies, Bird, Lime and Spin. The program began on April 1 and is set to expire on Nov. 15.
The town hosted Wednesday night’s forum at the Brookline Town Hall to discuss the future of the electric scooters. Present at the forum were Heather Hamilton and Chris Dempsey, two members of the five-person select board of elected citizens tasked with making a decision on what happens with the electric scooters in Brookline. Alongside them on the panel were Brookline Transportation Division Administrator Todd Kirrane and Brookline Police Sergeant John Canney.
Dozens were in attendance, and 21 members of the Brookline community were able to step up and address the panel and audience with their questions, comments and concerns about the electric scooters which have been polarizing the town in recent months.
“They are a great solution for inequities of cost and transportation because it’s very inexpensive to rent it as a scooter share, so they’re perfect for low-income people,” said Brookline resident John Harris.
Once the pilot program ends, the select board must decide on how effective the scooters were in town and come to a concrete decision by the November deadline. According to the town’s official website, the select board will come to one of three conclusions.
If it is determined that shared scooters will be brought back to Brookline permanently, the companies will be required to reapply for an annual permit. A second temporary pilot-program may be implemented for which companies would also have to reapply. Lastly, it may be decided that electric scooters will cease to be available in Brookline.
Brookline is one of two towns in Massachusetts that began their own pilot programs ahead of the state legislature, with Salem’s beginning this past August and set to run through May 2020.
According to Hamilton, the town of Brookline was assured that the state law on electric scooters was going to be clarified and implemented at some point in the future, so the plan of the pilot program was to get ahead and test the technology so the town wouldn’t be caught off guard by anything that might happen once a decision is made statewide.
There is no timeline for when any legislation will be done statewide and nothing has been filed by the state so far. Hamilton admits the Brookline select board will not move forward with a decision, despite their November deadline, until it is clearer what will be decided by the state.
In an attempt to sway the board into keeping scooters permanently, the forum was promoted and heavily attended by representatives from the three scooter companies in Brookline as well as their supporters.
As residents arrived at the town hall they were greeted outside by representatives who offered merchandise including socks and keychains, as well as posters with messages including “I love scooters” that could be brought into the forum.
On the other side, many in attendance raised concerns over the safety of the electric scooters and whether they were being properly used throughout Brookline.
All three scooter companies in Brookline require riders to ride on the road and stay off sidewalks, obey all traffic laws and always wear a helmet when riding, among other necessary practices required by state law.
The lack of enforcement of these laws was a common concern.
Rachel Silverman lives on the edge of Brookline, meaning her lawn is a common parking spot for scooters entering and leaving the town. Her street is one way, but she continuously sees scooter riders going in both directions.
“When I’m pulling out of my driveway, I’m trying not to hit pedestrians, drivers and now scooters coming in both directions,” Silverman said at the forum. “I worry all the time that I am going to to be the cause of someone’s demise.”
Ashley Brown, the Spin Government Partnerships manager for the East Coast, acknowledged the safety concerns of residents and explained the steps Spin takes to encourage the proper usage of their scooters.
On the Spin app, before you can launch your first ride you must go through a series of educational screenings after which you must consent that you know and understand the traffic laws of the town you are riding in.
An accountability metric is also built into the Spin app in which you can rate the parking job of the previous rider of the specific scooter you are about to use. If a user has too many negative reviews their account may be flagged and evaluated by the Spin team, leading to possible suspension of the account.
Each scooter company is also required by the town to pay $2-3 million worth of liability insurance and fill out an application which allows the town to do reference checks in communities where the companies are already operating.
While pedestrians showed concern at the forum about their experiences with scooter users, some scooter users detailed what they said was a lack of regard for scooters and bicycles by drivers in many parts of Brookline, and the danger caused by the poor construction of some roads.
Christy Jensen complained that bike lanes are often blocked by cars and law enforcement does little to change this.
“Everyday my life is threatened and so are the lives of other cyclists and scooter users,” she said.
The panel added that in addition to comments from Wednesday’s event they will also send out surveys to town residents to learn more about their thoughts on the scooter pilot. The form will be shared on social media, local newspapers and will be available at town hall.
All questions and feedback about the shared electric scooter pilot program can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.