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New law would legalize electric scooters on sidewalks

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Republican lawmaker’s bill could allow two-wheelers into pedestrian zones

San Francisco Battles New Electric Scooter Rentals Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A new bill has been working its way through the California State Assembly that, if passed, would expand the rights of scooter companies and riders, including allowing the two-wheeled whirligigs on sidewalks.

The bill, AB 2989, would more strictly define electric scooters as a vehicle category and specify certain rules relevant to their use:

This bill would define a “standup electric scooter” as a 2-wheeled device that has handlebars and a floorboard that is designed to be stood upon while riding, is powered by an electric motor of less than 750 watts, and does not exceed a speed of 20 miles per hour. The bill would except a standup electric scooter from the definition of a motorized scooter.

[...] Except as provided in subdivision (c), a standup electric scooter may be operated on sidewalks and may be parked in the same manner and at the same locations as a bicycle may be parked.

A local authority may adopt rules and regulations by ordinance or resolution prohibiting or restricting persons from riding or propelling a standup electric scooter on highways, sidewalks, or roadways.

The bill also adds certain restrictions, such as a helmet requirement for minors and expanding bicycle-related offenses to include a standup electric scooter.

San Joaquin Valley representative Heath Flora (R) introduced AB 2989 in February. The bill goes before the Assembly Transportation Committee today.

According to Quartz, electric scooter start-up Bird, one of three companies who own and rent scooters in San Francisco, was the one who lobbied Flora for AB 2989.

[Update: Via email, Bird attributed the following statement to company spokesperson Kenneth Baer: “The intent of the pending California legislation for e-scooters is to bring e-scooters into parity with e-bikes. It also empowers cities and municipalities in California to pass whatever rules are best for their communities.”]

If AB 2989 becomes law in its current form, cities like San Francisco would have the option of curbing sidewalk use locally.

Although San Francisco is pursuing stricter regulations, City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, specifying, “San Francisco has no interest in banning electric scooters.”