Where Do I Ride This Thing? “Rules of the Road” for Personal Transportation Devices (PTD)

MTI researchers find riders on e-scooters and other devices operate without clear and consistent regulations
May 23, 2019
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San José, CA

As “personal transportation devices” (PTDs) grow in cities around the United States, cities and states are struggling to define suitable “rules of the “road” for riders.  A new MTI report, How and Where Should I Ride This Thing? “Rules of the Road” for Personal Transportation Devices, analyzes existing PTD regulations across the country and proposes state-level rules to balance safety and freedom of movement for all road users, including PTD riders. The peer-reviewed study, available for free download, was conducted by Kevin Fang, PhD, Asha Weinstein Agrawal, PhD, and Ashley M. Hooper.

Dr. Fang observes that, “PTDs add a new user group to already contested street and sidewalk space, thus posing thorny regulatory challenges for cities.” The ever-growing number and types of PTDs have generated excitement about the devices’ potential as sustainable, affordable transportation modes, as well as serious concerns about how to integrate PTDs safely into communities.

After analyzing state, city, and campus rules for PTD riders, the study authors concluded that PTD users operate in a murky regulatory environment, with rules often poorly defined, contradictory, or altogether absent.

PTDs are often subject to regulations for other modes—in contradictory ways. As Dr. Agrawal points out, “riders face a confusing situation where, for example, Segway-style devices are regulated in radically different ways in different places; Segway riders are considered vehicles operators in Nebraska but pedestrians in Idaho.”

Regulations for a specific device type also vary widely from place to place. Co-author Hooper notes that, “depending on where one is riding, electric kick scooters are prohibited on sidewalks, allowed on sidewalks, or required to be on sidewalks.”

Drawing on their analysis of existing rules and expert interviews, the researchers developed model PTD “rules of the road.” Several core principles underpin the proposed rules for PTD riders: protect public safety, permit PTD use as a convenient travel option, be easy to understand and remember, and encompass new device-types as they appear without the need for new regulations.

The authors conclude that states are the appropriate entity to set comprehensive regulations for PTD riders, though local jurisdictions should have flexibility to limit certain uses when necessary to protect public safety. As Dr. Fang notes, “Just as we don’t expect car drivers to remember different driving rules for every community, PTD riders need consistency. However, policymakers also need the flexibility to account for differences in road conditions between and even within cities.”

Among other specifics in the proposed state legislation, the authors recommend allowing PTD riders on both streets and sidewalks, subject to strict rules that protect safety and free movement for all travelers.

The final project report contains detailed information on regulations in all the communities analyzed for the project: 50 states and 5 U.S. territories, 101 cities, and 20 campuses. The report also presents the full text of the model state legislation and explains the reasoning behind each proposed rule.

ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE

At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nation's’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. MTI was founded in 1991 and is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

 ABOUT THE AUTHORS

 Dr. Kevin Fang is and MTI Research Associate and Assistant Professor of Geography, Environment, and Planning at Sonoma State University. His research centers on the characteristics of sustainable alternative modes of transportation and their users. Dr. Asha Weinstein Agrawal is the Director of the MTI National Transportation Finance Center and a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at San Jose State University. Her research and teaching interests in transportation policy and planning include bicycle and pedestrian planning, travel survey methods, and transportation finance policy. She also works in the area of transportation history. Ashley M. Hooper is an MTI Research Assistant and doctoral candidate in Planning, Policy, and Design at the University of California, Irvine. Her research interests relate broadly to issues of sustainability and resilience within urban socio-ecological systems.

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Contact:

Irma Garcia, MTI Communications & Workforce Development Coordinator

408.924.7560

irma.garcia@sjsu.edu