Salt Lake City enacts new e-scooter rules focused on warning bells, sidewalks, reckless parking

Two years after they popped up on city streets, electric scooters finally are covered by a comprehensive safety and liability ordinance.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) This July 3, 2018, file photo shows Jenna Dellorusso, left, and Cassandra Better with a pair of dockless e-scooters on Salt Lake City's Main Street. After years of trying to regulate the scooters through agreements and piecemeal rules, the capital city finally has approved a comprehensive ordinance aimed at ensuring the devices have clear-cut rules of the road, safety features and liability insurance.

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The Salt Lake City Council wrapped up 2020 by putting an end to what Chair Chris Wharton called the “scooter-pocalypse,” at long last putting into place an ordinance regulating the rental and use of e-scooters.

New rules approved Tuesday night focus on safety and cleaning up sidewalks, although the council did not impose specific speed limits or slow zones.

E-scooters will need to be equipped with warning bells, a secondary braking system, GPS as well as prominently displayed ID numbers and company contact information. Riders are barred from leaving the devices in areas that impede pedestrians and traffic, including parking spaces, UTA platforms, within 15 feet of building access points or driveways, and within 15 feet of traffic lights or utility boxes.

Scooter rental companies will require riders to submit pictures proving they properly parked.

Riders will also need to follow the same traffic laws that apply to bicycles, including staying off downtown sidewalks.

Violation of these regulations is an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $750.

Riders are also barred from operating scooters while drunk or impaired by drugs, subject to prosecution as a class B misdemeanor, which carries a fine up to $1,000 and maximum 6-month jail sentence.

The regulations require electronic scooter companies to obtain a business license and insurance before operating.

Salt Lake City had originally proposed charging $100 or more per scooter each year, which companies opposed, instead preferring a per-ride fee. The council struck a compromise, charging $30 per scooter and 10 cents per ride. The revenue will be used to fund oversight of the program.

The council unanimously approved the new regulations in their last meeting of the year, sans council member Ana Valdemoros who is closing out 2020 with a new baby.

Not so long ago, e-scooters littering city sidewalks and causing near-misses with pedestrians were among the most cantankerous issues facing the City Council. Then 2020 brought a deadly pandemic, a damaging earthquake, economic upheaval, weeks of occasionally destructive police protests, a hurricane-force windstorm and many late nights for the city’s elected officials. All of these urgent issues pushed scooters down on the to-do list.

“2020 has been the longest 12 months of my life,” Wharton said, addressing the council at his last meeting as chair. “I’ve gained more than a few gray hairs on my head.”

The new “dockless shared mobility” ordinance received a green light without any council discussion, although it has been a topic of much debate since 2018.

Several scooter companies expressed support for the new rules at previous council meetings, including Spin and Lime. Those operators spent the summer deploying educational campaigns to help riders understand safety and the coming rules.