New Haven, Conn., Officials Wrestle with Scooter Rules

City officials are trying to establish where scooters might fit on city streets and sidewalks. While some are concerned with safety, others questioned whether the devices were a good alternative to car traffic.

by Brian Zahn, New Haven Register / October 31, 2019
Shutterstock/LCV

(TNS) — As multiple cities across the country pilot electric scooter programs, the city’s transportation director Doug Hausladen believes e-scooters are an inevitability for the Elm City.

“We’ve been preparing for this moment,” he told the Community Development Committee Wednesday during a hearing on the potential of adding electric scooters to the city’s options for alternative transportation.

With so many concerns about safety, accessibility and feasibility, the four alders at the hearing expressed reservations, as did resident Arthur Nacht.

“Who is benefiting?” Nacht asked.

Although he was testifying before the committee in the aldermanic chambers, he was joined by Hausladen at his side.

Hausladen responded that of course, private companies that own the scooters and lease them to the city for use would benefit by making a profit, but the program also has the potential for decreasing automobile ridership and making more of the city accessible.

“The profits of private companies are of no interest to me as a citizen,” Nacht said.

Additionally, Nacht said, there is no harm in New Haven becoming a late adapter of the technology.

“It won’t damage the attraction of the city of New Haven for anyone,” he said.

All around college campuses in Washington, D.C., he said, e-scooters litter the sidewalks. They have become part of the cityscape, he argued. Additionally, he said, there is a real risk of injury for pedestrians being struck by scooters operating at 15 miles per hour.

“We’re really playing around here, I believe, with the quality of life in New Haven,” he said.

Although Hausladen testified for the committee in his capacity as an official, he later testified during a public comment portion as a resident of the city after hearing criticisms of the idea from multiple angles.

He said that in a Boston pilot program, 100 e-scooters were used for over 100,000 rides, and a survey indicated 30.8 percent of those rides were used as an alternative to ride-hailing companies.

“That’s a lot of short trips that are not going to be taken in a car,” he said. “I’d rather be hit by a scooter than a car, if I had to pick.”

Alder Dolores Colon, D-6, asked whether Hausladen could prove that a significant number of casualties caused by vehicles in New Haven were associated with the type of riders an e-scooter program would attract, or if it was out-of-towners and people riding long distances.

“I don’t know that number, I’m not sure how to get it, but we do have the license plates,” Hausladen said.

Although Hausladen shared his argument that e-scooters are an environmentally friendly alternative to cars, Alder Abby Roth, D-7, said from her own research that it isn’t settled as to whether the scooters have a long enough lifespan that they won’t create material waste at a level that offsets whatever they save in fossil fuel emissions.

Additionally, the city’s director of disability services, Michelle Duprey, said the scooters present a large potential for liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If scooters are on sidewalks, it can make those sidewalks inaccessible to people with mobility disabilities, she said.

Regardless of whether the alders do consider any proposal for introducing e-scooters into the city as a public utility, Hausladen requested that the city ordinance be revisited to add e-scooters so the issue could be regulated in the same way as bicycles. With or without scooters as a publicly available transportation option, the city should be prepared for the regulation of privately-owned e-scooters.

Hausladen said that if the use of e-scooters becomes more prevalent, it might be in the city’s best interest to have them travel in bicycle lanes with a speed limit of 15 miles per hour for people traveling in bicycle lanes.

©2019 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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