Boston Eyes Electric Scooter Pilot In 2019

A "nest" of Bird scooters on Cowperthwaite Street in Cambridge. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A "nest" of Bird scooters on Cowperthwaite Street in Cambridge. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The city of Boston is mulling a spring pilot program for the kind of rentable, electric scooters that zoomed through Cambridge and Somerville over the summer, but a public hearing Monday revealed a long to-do list that must be completed before the tiny vehicles become available.

Near the top is a change to state law, which Boston transportation officials interpret as requiring turn signals and brake lights on scooters managed by companies such as Bird Rides, Lime and Lyft. Representatives of those three companies testified before the City Council's Committee on Planning, Development and Transportation. Most scooters in the companies' fleets lack the required safety features.

During a public comment period, disability rights advocate Olivia Richard said scooters could be hazardous to people in wheelchairs. And she said she’s seen many riders without helmets.

"Hey, if you want to become a member of my community, that’s a way to do it," said Richard. "Dead serious."

Councilor Matt O'Malley, who called for the hearing, said he believes the state law requiring turn signals was intended for mopeds, adding that he is optimistic the Legislature will move to exempt stand-up scooters next year. But Boston Chief of Streets Chris Osgood said the law could be the biggest obstacle to a pilot.

Osgood, Transportation Commissioner Gina Fiandaca and Active Transportation Director Stefanie Seskin said they hope to make the pilot a joint venture with Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville — Boston's partners in the Blue Bikes bicycle-sharing system. Bird launched without permission in Cambridge and Somerville in July but pulled out a month later, after public works crews impounded scooters.

The return of scooters in Greater Boston could hinge on action by the state Legislature and the ability of four local governments to agree on a shared set of rules.


Headshot of Callum Borchers

Callum Borchers Reporter
Callum covered the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.



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