By Wayne Schutsky
After debuting in Scottsdale last year, electric scooters continue to divide the community and pose a significant health risk to riders, according to data tracked by a local hospital.
The city government has yet to make good on a commitment to revisit city ordinances regulating these vehicles that the City Council adopted in November 2018.
The city’s ordinance, which also governed the rideshare bicycles that have all but disappeared since scooters came on the scene, regulated how and where individuals could operate scooters and where they could be parked, but did not require companies to obtain a permit or license before operating in the city.
The ordinance did give Scottsdale Police the power to cite riders for reckless driving and speeding.
It also gave the city the power to fine owners and e-scooter companies like Lime, Lyft, Uber, Bird and Razor if scooters are parked improperly or left in the public right of way.
But some downtown area property owners have complained to the city on a near-weekly basis that e-scooter riders and the companies themselves are failing to abide by city ordinances by leaving scooters in the middle of sidewalks and on private property.
Dozens of emails from downtown business owners viewed by the Scottsdale Airpark News complain of scooters left in front of their businesses and strewn across sidewalks in violation of the ordinance.
One owner who has a gallery on Main Street shared a photo in March of a scooter on its side next to a small cactus that had been knocked over in front of their gallery.
“This happened in front of my gallery late last night. This is just another problem that the council should take a serious look at as well,” the email said.
City statistics back up that claim.
A report from the Scottsdale Police Department requested by the Progress shows that police issued 181 citations for violating the new ordinance between December 14, 2018, and July 29, 2019, or approximately 0.8 citations per day.
A total of 156 of those citations, or 86%, were issued for parking violations, meaning scooters or bicycles were left in areas prohibited by the ordinance — a major complaint of the business owners.
The Scottsdale Police Department also made six arrests during that time frame for riding while under the influence and/or reckless driving.
Between December 13, 2018, and July 14, 2019, the city assessed $9,295.80 in fines. It collected $8,364 of those fines as of August 8, according to the city.
Parking violations dominate
City officials have been quick to respond to business owner complaints submitted by email and have regularly contacted companies to move scooters to come into compliance with the ordinance.
However, another business owner with a location on Fifth Avenue complained in an email that the onus of enforcement is being put on residents and businesses to report infractions rather than the city or the companies themselves.
Not all citations were related to rentable e-scooters as the ordinance also governs similar privately-owned devices and bicycles, though the majority were handed out to the companies.
According to the city, 94 of the 114 citations, or 82%, handed out between December 13, 2018, and July 14, 2019 went to the private e-scooter companies with 20 citations going to individual riders.
Lime Scooters was the biggest offender with 40 citations during that time. Lyft (30), Spin (12), Bird (10) and Jump (2) also had violations.
All citations given to the e-scooter operators were for violations of the city’s parking code.
One downtown business owner complained via email that scooters are “blocking sidewalks, knocked over, placed where they should not be, etc” and that increased monitoring and enforcement would be needed to make a dent in the issue.
In February, Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell said the city planned to revisit the ordinance at the end of the tourist high season that spring and could potentially recommend changes to the City Council.
However, the tourists have come and gone and still city staff has not presented that report to the City Council.
Stockwell says the city is waiting for data from outside sources and making sure its own internal information is up to date before bringing its report to the Council.
“We will get it out this summer,” Stockwell says.
Scottsdale’s current ordinance, which was applauded by representatives from Lime and Razor at the City Council meeting in November 2018, is less restrictive than other Valley cities.
Tempe adopted a licensing model in January in which operators have to pay nearly $8,000 per year and $1.06 per day per vehicle. The companies are also liable for a $100 relocation fee if city staff has to move bikes or scooters, according to public radio station KJZZ.
Injuries take a toll
Phoenix recently announced it will launch a six-month pilot program that will allow up to 300 scooters per operator in the city. Operators will have to obtain a permit from the city, according to KJZZ.
As the city grapples with how to regulate e-scooters, health care professionals at HonorHealth have tracked injuries related to the devices.
Between October 1, 2018, and July 15, 2019, HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center in downtown Scottsdale has received 50 trauma patients with injuries related to electronic scooters and similar vehicles.
Tina Sheppard, the hospital’s trauma program director, says trauma activations refer to injuries too severe to be treated in the emergency room.
Sheppard says a medical student at the hospital has been reviewing data at area hospitals to determine the total number of emergency room visits and trauma patients related to scooter usage.
That student found there were 122 combined emergency room and trauma visits related to scooter usage since 2008 at HonorHealth’s Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center, Thompson Peak Medical Center and Shea Medical Center.
Sheppard said that, though the data goes back to 2008, “I’m sure most of it has been since they have been here.”
She said a majority of the incidents took place in and around downtown Scottsdale.
Sheppard said the trauma patients varied in age from 17 to 57 years old, but “it’s more the 20 and 30 year olds.”
The preliminary data also showed that alcohol played a factor in most injuries.
Only 19 of the 50 patients Sheppard referenced tested negative for alcohol.
It is already illegal in Scottsdale to drive an e-scooter while intoxicated.
Injuries seen by the trauma unit at Scottsdale Osborn frequently include facial injuries, especially among female riders.
Sheppard said the hospital has seen many female riders who require oral maxillofacial surgery.
“We’re thinking it’s because they’re holding on and they’re trying to maintain control of the scooter when they lose control,” Sheppard said. “Their hands are staying on the handles and they’re going face first.”
Sheppard said her hospital has also had one death related to an accident on an electric skateboard, which are tracked in the same category as e-scooters.
The hospital is tracking all injuries on motorized devices where the rider was not wearing a helmet.
The hospital also set up a booth at the Scottsdale Farmers Market to provide information to prospective riders, because most injuries occur downtown.
To avoid injury, Sheppard said riders should not drink alcohol and drive, avoid riding doubles, avoid wearing flip flop sandals while riding and “and, of course, above all else, wear a helmet.” ν