The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) recently reported that over 84 million trips were taken on shared bicycles and scooters in the United States in 2018. This is more than double the number of trips recorded in 2017. While the increased usage of these shared vehicles eases traffic congestion in dense, urban areas, this growth has also given way to a multitude of safety concerns.
Here we explore the implications that widespread use of shared bikes and scooters has on safety, regulation and permitting, and infrastructure design.
Shared Bike & Scooter Fleet Forensic Investigations - Expert Article
The Micromobility Landscape
Defining micromobility vehicles can be an evolving exercise, but these devices are generally low speed (typically less than 20 miles per hour) and light weight (less than 100 pounds). They can be privately owned or rented as part of a shared system. Some are entirely human-powered, such as bicycles. Some have an electric motor to assist pedaling, and some are solely powered by an electric motor controlled by a throttle.
Many U. S. cities have one or more vendors providing fleets of shared-use bicycles, electric assist bicycles (e-bikes), and electric scooters. These are vehicles offered for short-time use within a defined area in each city. They can be found physically connected to docks throughout the area, or free-standing on sidewalks and designated parking regions. Users can activate a short-term rental, usually hourly or daily, with a credit card at the rental kiosk or through a smartphone app.
Safety: Privately-Owned vs. Fleet Vehicles
The standard of care and best practices for the safe use, maintenance, and inspection of micromobility vehicles in a fleet is more complicated than when these vehicles are privately owned. In all circumstances, bicycles and scooters must be assembled properly, inspected periodically, maintained and repaired when necessary, and used according to local, state and federal regulations.
Bikes and scooters in shared systems often see more frequent and harder use than personal vehicles. They are exposed to the elements and are subject to greater wear and tear, vandalism, and sometimes improper use. The safety of fleet vehicles can depend on the quality of assembly, inspection, maintenance, repair, and policies defining usable lifespan set forth by the operator and/or manufacturer. In forensic investigations, we often review operator system inspection and maintenance policies and procedures, and then compare them with standard industry practices.
Regulation and Permitting
The rapid development of electric vehicle technology and the sometimes unregulated operation of shared vehicle fleets in US cities can lead to injury-causing incidents. There is an ongoing effort to define micromobility devices by maximum operating speed, motor power, componentry, and allowed/forbidden areas of operation. Some municipalities and states are developing their own rules regarding those criteria, while other areas are waiting for federal legislation to define the parameters. Absent specific prohibitions and enforcement, powerful electric vehicles capable of speeds far exceeding those for human-powered travel can be found on mixed use paths, sidewalks and dense urban roadways.
Not unlike the automotive revolution, when existing roads were designed for horse drawn carriages, much of our current infrastructure hasn’t had a chance to catch up with the types of vehicles on the road. The proper place to ride these different vehicles can be ill-defined, misunderstood or ignored/unenforced. Infrastructure challenges are magnified by the presence of vehicle users that are often inexperienced and untrained in the rules of the road. Certain classes of higher speed e-bikes are technically forbidden from mixed-use paths, but signage and enforcement are often not present and/or not consistent. Miles of bike lanes are being added to many cities throughout the country, but with double-parked delivery vehicles, pavement damage, opening car doors and dangerous driving, bike lanes are not always the safest place to ride.
Questions Explored in Shared Bike/Scooter Investigations
- What are the system operator’s policies regarding assembly, inspection, maintenance, repair and life span of the fleet vehicles?
- How are the fleet technicians hired, trained, supervised and evaluated?
- What documents exist to record which vehicle was serviced, when, by whom, and what actions were performed?
- How does user feedback get applied to vehicles that may be damaged?
- Are the maintenance personnel employees of the operating system or independent contractors?
- What regulations exist in the area where the incident occurred that define proper use of the particular vehicle?
- Where was the user riding when the incident occurred?
- What information is available to the user regarding product features, safety warnings, traffic rules, etc.?
- What was the user’s experience with this particular device?
- Is there digital information available about the maintenance history, GPS ride tracking, or software updates?
An investigation and analysis of these questions calls on an understanding of the mechanical design of these vehicles, experience operating them in their native environment, and best practices for the operation of the fleet. To address causation, an expert will look to available evidence regarding the design, manufacture, assembly, maintenance, location, use, and incident.
SHARED BIKE AND SCOOTER FORENSIC INVESTIGATIONS
The experts at Robson Forensic are frequently retained to investigate incidents involving riders of bicycle share, e-bikes and e-scooters to determine if actions taken meet the standard of care in the industry. Our experts have industry experience in the design and manufacture of electric bikes, bike share systems, and other similar vehicles.
For more information, submit an inquiry or contact the author of this article.