New Wisconsin Law Broadens Access for Electric Scooters

Governor Tony Evers (D) (seen above) put a new law into effect on July 8 that gives municipal governments broader “flexibility” to balance safety and right-of-way access for electric scooter users across Wisconsin.

“We should be setting the floor, not the ceiling, for local governments in Wisconsin,” he said in a statement. “Electric scooters improve access to low-cost transportation options and can serve as a first or last-mile solution to residents and visitors in communities throughout our state. By providing clarity to a rapidly-growing industry, this bill empowers local governments to make the decisions that best fit their area.”

Key aspects of Wisconsin’s new law include: Electric scooters are exempt from vehicle registration by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation; electric scooters may be operated on most roadways, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and bicycle ways, though a local highway authority may by ordinance regulate the rental and operation of them; and operators of electric scooters must observe many of the rules of the road.

Wisconsin’s legislative move comes at a time when scooter use is rapidly increasing, according to an annual shared micro-mobility report compiled by the National Association of City Transportation Officials and released in April.

That study found more than twice as many shared bicycle and e-scooter trips were taken in 2018 – 84 million – compared to 2017, with 38.5 million trips were taken via shared e-scooters alone.

Photo by Elvert Barnes

“Shared micro-mobility has the opportunity to be a game-changer for those without the means, ability, or desire to maintain a private vehicle,” said Nicole Payne, NACTO’s program manager, in a statement. “When cities, system operators, and communities plan together, cities can ensure the best outcomes for their residents: providing truly reliable, affordable, and easy-to-access transportation, expanding access to opportunity.”

Yet Kate Fillin-Yeh, NACTO’s director of strategy, stressed that “managing the many new shared vehicle types on city streets is a challenge,” pointing out that “the data cities receive from vendors can be spotty, complicating efforts to regulate systems or make good policies. Much of the equipment is new and largely untested at scale and the market is changing rapidly, with an uncertain financial outlook.”

Another study compiled by data platform management firm Populus and released in July 2018 indicated that one potential roadblock that might slow broader use of two-wheeled scooters is that most city and state laws do not allow them to operate on public roads – a problem that Wisconsin’s new law addressed.

“It is widely believed that as cities become more urban and streets more crowded, micro-mobility services could more effectively replace personal vehicle and ride-hailing trips, as well as deliver first- and last-mile solutions for public transit,” the report noted. “In fact, our analysis of the most recent national transportation data indicates that over 45 percent of the trips made in the United States are three miles or less, and that 78 percent of those trips are now made by personal vehicle.”

Yet the study emphasized that transportation planning and policymaking in the age of new mobility services “is a challenging endeavor” given the current pace of change.

“Over the past decade, there has been limited information and data on the adoption and use of new mobility services available to cities, making it ever more difficult for cities to develop appropriate policies and transportation plans,” Populus added.

Related articles