Scooter restrictions passed by Texas Senate would ban use on sidewalks, add an age limit

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UT students avoid tripping over an e-scooter parked in the middle of Speedway on Sept. 5, 2018. Senate Bill 549 passed the Senate on Wednesday. The bill details statewide regulations for companies that operate a fleet of e-scooters around Texas cities.

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate approved a series of rules for electric scooter use on Wednesday, sending the regulations — laid out in Senate Bill 549 — to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration.

Authored by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the bill would impose restrictions on using the increasingly popular method of transportation. Proposed requirements include an age limit — riders must be at east 16 years old — and a ban on sidewalk use.

While arguing for the bill on the Senate floor, West said safety concerns were the primary motivation for SB 549.

“We’re beginning to see more and more accidents that are occurring on electrical scooters,” West said. “We’re beginning to see also a change in how we use pedestrian right-of-ways in terms of sidewalks, etc. … the state needs to make sure we have some basic guidelines for those.”

Debate centered in large part on the sidewalk ban. An amendment offered by West in order to gain the support of colleagues such as state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would have removed the sidewalk ban but allowed individual cities to decide whether or not to allow sidewalk use.

“I think, as we’ve discussed, there are some situations where it would be safer to be on the sidewalk than it would to be in traffic,” Hughes said. “With the amendment you are offering, we would be letting cities look at their cities and look at the traffic and decide if there are certain areas where sidewalks should be off limits.”

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, disagreed with adding the amendment and said she supported the statewide sidewalk ban.

“I personally — here in Austin — have almost been hit three times by scooters,” Huffman said. “I appreciate personal liberties, and I appreciate Senator Hughes’ desire to ride wherever he wants to ride, however … what about my safety when I’m walking on a sidewalk?”

State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, also expressed a desire to keep electric scooters off of sidewalks because of their effect on the disabled population.

“We’ve had many complaints from constituents about scooters on sidewalks,” Menéndez said. “One of the big complaints is that where these scooters are left blocks people in wheelchairs from being able to travel.”

Menéndez also said the tendency for scooters to pile up further affects the disabled.

“My concerns are where the scooters are left, and then what we’re seeing more and more often is where people will knock them down,” Menéndez said. “Not only are they obstructing in their normal state when they get parked, but then they get knocked into piles and it’s that much more of a danger.”

Ultimately, West pulled the amendment, leaving the state-wide ban of sidewalk use in place. In addition to the sidewalk ban and age requirement, SB 549 would also prohibit multiple people from using the same scooter and scooters on roads with a speed limit above 35 miles per hour.

If passed in the House and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, the new scooter regulations will go into effect on Sept. 1.

 

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