The electric scooters buzzing down Omaha streets have demonstrated that they’re wildly popular with a considerable segment of Omahans and visitors. But the devices also have raised concerns about public safety.
The city’s six-month pilot program for the scooters ends Friday, by which time the companies Lime and Spin need to remove the devices from city streets. Then it will fall on Mayor Jean Stothert and the City Council to sort through the future of scooters in Omaha, with a decision sometime next year.
Many people regard scooter service as the mark of a city’s ambition and embrace of a modern sensibility. The devices certainly are proving popular in many U.S. cities. Still, if Omaha officials decide that scooter service should resume, they will need to see if they can craft policies, in coordination with vendors, that provide the public needed assurance about safety. Scooter service will not last in Omaha if the city and vendors fail to adequately address safety matters.
In the pilot program’s first four months, area hospitals treated 65 scooter-related injuries.
Some scooter supporters correctly note that vehicles are involved far more often in traffic accidents, including serious ones. Still, in a car-and-scooter collision, the scooter operator is particularly vulnerable to serious injury and even death. City leaders have a responsibility to think through how best to create conditions that minimize that serious risk. This is a dilemma, of course, that municipal leaders across the country are now facing wherever scooters are in use.
Omaha officials will have additional regulatory issues to decide, including: How to keep the devices from being ridden on sidewalks. How to ensure safety as the days grow shorter. Whether helmet requirements can be enforced. And how the city can exert effective leverage on scooter companies so they fulfill all obligations.
Perhaps a public awareness campaign can help on some of these scores, along with further software tweaks by vendors. If Omaha is to succeed on the scooter issue, the solution will lie in such steps and, above all, in well-crafted city policies and procedures.