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EDITORIAL: Give dockless electric scooters a fair shake — and sensible rules

A woman rides a Bird shared dockless electric scooter along Venice Beach on August 13 in Los Angeles. Shared e-scooter startups Bird and Lime have rapidly expanded in the city. Some city residents complain the controversial e-scooters are dangerous for pedestrians and sometimes clog sidewalks. A Los Angeles Councilmember has proposed a ban on the scooters until regulations can be worked out. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The City Council has a chance to protect Lake Michigan by keeping angry Chicagoans from tossing electric scooters into it. It’s an opportunity the Council should not miss.

Dockless electric scooters that people rent for short pay-per-minute rides and then abandon when they reach their destinations are appearing in cities around the country.

In places where they’re not properly regulated, they also are raising hackles.

In the Los Angeles area, Californians tired of stumbling over dockless scooters on sidewalks have tossed them into the ocean, set them afire, broken them into pieces and tossed them off balconies. Two months ago, Nashville impounded the scooters operating there. Last month, Milwaukee asked a judge to order the removal of one company’s scooter fleet. Cleveland has banned rental scooters altogether.

EDITORIAL

We don’t want to see Lake Michigan beachgoers stub their toes over submerged scooters. When the Council takes up the scooter issue, possibly this fall, it should find a way to allow the battery-powered scooters to operate under a pilot program and then regulate them in a way that advances the public interest.

Electric scooters can be an easy, energy-efficient, quick, convenient and even fun way to get around a city. Unlike Divvy bikes, no docking station is required.

Riders log into a smartphone app, a website or call a customer service number to find the closest scooter. They can then ride it in a bike lane at speeds of up to 15 mph.

When they reach their destinations, riders notify the app, which locks the wheels. At night, workers collect the scooters for recharging. One company, Lime, has been testing the scooters this summer in areas around Chicago festivals.

Video by: Rahul Parikh

In theory, riders park the scooters on a sidewalk near a curb when done. In practice, they often leave them strewn about on sidewalks or in other inconvenient places, annoying pedestrians and making it difficult for people using walkers or wheelchairs.

Transit experts see benefits to dockless scooters. They can help reduce the number of cars on city streets and help create a larger constituency for protected bike lanes.

But in cities that lack regulation, dockless scooters can be a path to trouble. Some scooters collide with people, bikes or cars, raising liability and insurance questions.

Chicago needs to sort through these problems. Users will need to know where they can legally ride and park them.

Some lessons no doubt will emerge from a six-month pilot program now underway on the South Side for dockless bicycles. Like dockless scooters, the bicycles can be left anywhere once a ride is over.

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So far, City Hall seems to be on the right track when it comes to regulating dockless bikes. One company, the Chinese start-up Ofo, has pulled out of Chicago over a requirement that the bikes have the capability of being locked to bike racks or similar objects, rather than just having locked wheels. The rule is intended to keep dockless bikes from being abandoned in the middle of sidewalks or other places in the public right of way. Ofo also has pulled out of Washington, D.C.

Dockless rides — whether on bikes or scooters — could be the future for cities. Baltimore recently shut down its docked bicycle system and is replacing it with a pilot program for dockless bicycles and scooters.

But the dockless systems need to be structured in a way that makes it easier for everyone to get around without causing chaos.

The Council needs to get this right.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.