Scooter companies serving Omaha scrambled Wednesday to make it harder for people under age 18 to rent an electric scooter.
Spin and Lime agreed to require people renting scooters to verify their age using a driver’s license, as they do in some other cities.
The changes, which will be in place for both companies by Thursday, came after a 9-year-old boy was seriously injured this week on a Spin scooter on Florence Boulevard.
Both companies faced the possibility of losing access to the Omaha market over concerns about injuries to underage riders.
After Tuesday’s scooter crash, Councilwoman Aimee Melton asked the City Law Department to see if there was a legal way out of the city’s scooter agreement.
Melton said she hoped to talk to other council members and the mayor about possibly quitting the pilot program before its official end in November.
A final decision rests with Mayor Jean Stothert, who said she met Wednesday with the police chief, fire chief, city attorney, planning director and manager of parking and mobility about the scooter program. All agreed that they want the pilot to continue so the city can evaluate it, Stothert said.
At least two of the city’s most serious scooter-related injuries have involved riders younger than 18, the minimum age for renting scooters.
“With two underage children being injured on scooters, can we cancel the scooter pilot program now before someone gets killed?” Melton asked.
The 9-year-old boy remains hospitalized in serious condition after the collision with a city bus that was trying to pass him Tuesday on Florence Boulevard near Kountze Park.
Police and Spin representatives say they are still working to find out who rented the scooter or whether the child rented it himself.
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In a crash in May, a 16-year-old girl hurt her right ankle on a scooter near 31st and Farnam Streets. First responders sent her to the hospital.
Other kids have suffered bumps, bruises and broken bones in scooter crashes that didn’t require an ambulance call or police report.
Local hospitals reported that more than 65 people, adults and young people, have been injured riding scooters since the pilot program began in May, based on a World-Herald check.
The scooters have proven popular in Omaha. People took more than 148,000 scooter rides from May 13 to Aug. 20, with most of the rides covering less than a mile and lasting less than 10 minutes, based on city data.
The majority of rides were clustered around four parts of town — downtown, Midtown Crossing, Aksarben Village and Benson.
Electric scooters in Omaha are rented using smartphone apps from the individual scooter companies. Some are riding illegally.
At least a dozen of the 119 people issued citations or warnings by Omaha police were younger than 18 years old, according to police reports the newspaper requested and reviewed this month.
Council President Chris Jerram said he received an email Tuesday from a resident asking the city to end the pilot program.
“By continuing with this pilot, it is my fear that more children will be hurt,” Jen Bauer wrote. “The shine has worn off the new toy.”
Bauer, who is president of the Aksarben-Elmwood Park Neighborhood Association, said she was making the request as a private citizen.
Problems with young riders have cropped up in other cities. Some California cities, including Santa Monica, required the scooter-renting companies to incorporate bar code scanning of driver’s licenses.
Before the change in Omaha announced Wednesday, the Lime and Spin apps required local riders to confirm that they were at least 18 years old but allowed them to vouch for their own age.
The scooter apps will now check the age information on the license.
Spokespeople for Lime and Spin said their companies work to educate riders on the safe way to ride their scooters, and that includes being 18 or older.
Alex Youn of Lime said his company is pleased with how the Omaha pilot program is going and said that most people ride responsibly.
The company said riders under 18 are not allowed and that those who ride underage are banned from the platform.
Stothert said Wednesday that the city agreed to the pilot program to see whether the city’s infrastructure could handle the scooters and to gauge public interest.
She said the city will require the companies to do a better job of highlighting key local rules, including age restrictions and the prohibition on riding on sidewalks.
And city officials need to comb through the data the program provides to decide if the scooters should be allowed or banned.
“We don’t have a lot of experience with them,” Stothert said. “That’s why we’re doing the pilot.”
World-Herald staff writer Kevin Cole contributed to this report.