Electric scooters and bikes in your community: what you need to know to keep your community safe
Electric bicycles and scooters, commonly called "e-bikes” and "e-scooters," have surged in popularity over the years as convenient and appealing transportation options. Their popularity continues to grow with the introduction of e-scooter and e-bike-sharing apps that allow users to rent them by the minute. If you are an association board member, you’ve probably seen them in your community.
You're in the right place if you have questions about e-scooters and e-bikes but don’t know where to start. Keep reading to learn 3 safety concerns and what you can do to address them.
What are e-bikes and e-scooters?
An e-bike is a bicycle equipped with an electric bike motor, usually powered by a rechargeable battery that assists in pedaling. This assistance makes commuting and traveling longer distances easier because it’s less physically demanding. Using an e-bike can be especially beneficial for those with physical limitations or who find traditional biking strenuous.
Similar to e-bikes, e-scooters also have electric motors, but they differ in that people usually stand when riding them. E-scooters are also suitable for a variety of purposes such as commuting to work or running errands.
Charging e-bikes and e-scooters is simple, requiring plugging the charging unit into a wall outlet and connecting it to the vehicle. Charging an e-bike typically takes between 3.5 and 6 hours, and its range can vary from 20 to 100 miles, depending on factors like pedaling speed, terrain and the user’s weight. E-scooters, on the other hand, require between 4 and 20 hours of charging time and offer a range of 15 to 30 miles, depending on usage conditions.
What are some benefits of using them?
Besides being convenient, both methods of transportation can also be environmentally friendly. Using e-bikes to replace car trips can reduce CO2 emissions by 225 kilograms annually, according to National Geographic. Also, compared to other modes of transportation, e-bikes and e-scooters require minimal storage space and emit very little noise.
Other benefits of using these electric modes of transportation include cost-effectiveness. Despite their upfront costs, both are cheaper to maintain than cars or motorcycles since they don’t rely on fuel. As an added benefit, they are also effective for exercise.
What are the requirements for using an e-bike or an e-scooter?
Most states have different rules for e-scooters, so laws vary. To operate an e-scooter in Florida a driver’s license is not required but users under 16 must wear a helmet. Users in Florida have the same rights and responsibilities as bicyclists, including the right to operate them in bike lanes. It’s important to note that regulations for e-scooters vary from city to city as well. Some cities only allow e-scooters to be used in certain areas and may have specific requirements related to age, helmet use, or limits to the number of people who can ride at one time. Rules and regulations about speed and location and whether the scooter can be used on sidewalks or streets also vary according to the city.
E-bike riders in Florida are allowed to use them wherever standard bikes are allowed. This includes roads and roadway shoulders, bike lanes, bike paths, and multi-use paths.
As with e-scooters, the laws governing e-bikes include state laws as well as city ordinances, so check with your association’s counsel to confirm which ones are applicable in your municipality.
What are some e-bike and e-scooter safety concerns?
Rider inexperience or reckless riding: Many e-bike and e-scooter riders lack experience operating them, leading to unsafe riding behaviors such as speeding, weaving through traffic, or ignoring traffic laws and signals, which could increase the likelihood of accidents. Furthermore, using these vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can impair a rider's judgment and coordination. In Florida, the definition of what counts as a vehicle is broad and you can be arrested for DUI while operating an e-scooter or e-bike if you are impaired.
Sidewalk clutter: “E-bike sidewalk clutter,” or “e-scooter littering,” occurs when e-bikes or e-scooters are left on sidewalks, blocking pedestrian paths. This can put pedestrians in your community at risk of falling.
Fires: Most e-bikes and e-scooters contain lithium-ion batteries that could ignite if exposed to the wrong conditions. Consequently, e-bike and e-scooter fires have been on the rise in Florida and other states. According to the Associated Press, New York City has been the epicenter of battery-related fires in 2023, with 100 fires, resulting in 13 deaths – more than double the previous year. And while Florida may not be the epicenter of these fires, it has seen its fair share of incidents. Earlier this year, a high-rise community managed by FirstService Residential experienced a blaze that impacted 9 floors.
Following the manufacturer's instructions, a resident plugged in his new e-bike to charge. He then left his unit to get something to eat. He returned a few minutes later to find his unit engulfed in flames caused by the bike's battery exploding. While the reason for the battery’s explosion remains unclear, it immediately raised concerns about whether e-bikes should be allowed in or near the building. In that instance, there was no damage beyond the unit as the building’s fire safety systems performed perfectly.
“Our first reaction was to ban e-bikes completely, but we recognize they are popular with residents, so banning them was not an appropriate option,” said Val Prophete, regional director at FirstService Residential. “Nevertheless, the incident served as a stark reminder of the potential hazards these vehicles pose. It is important to enact e-bike policies to avoid similar events in the future.”
E-bike and e-scooter riders should also note the dangers of exposing these and other lithium-ion-powered vehicles to salt water. Exposure to salt water significantly increases the risk of fire. This is of particular concern in Florida, where brackish (somewhat salty) water can get carried inland by storm surge, which commonly happens after a hurricane.
Protecting your property and ensuring the safety of your residents is crucial when it comes to e-bikes and e-scooters. Work with your management company to create policies that are best for your community.
What are some ways to address e-bike and e-scooter safety concerns?
Create community awareness: Create awareness by educating residents about e-bike and e-scooter safety, sharing best practices. Discuss them at your next association meeting. Your board may even consider hosting an on-site e-bike and e-scooter safety workshop conducted by local authorities. When residents are aware of potential hazards, they are more likely to adopt safe practices.
Establish a policy: If your community doesn’t have an e-bike and e-scooter policy, now is a good time to create one, ensuring it’s in accordance with the rules in your community’s governing documents. The policy should include specific rules and regulations for their use in your community. It should address appropriate speeds, riding areas and abandoned or improperly parked e-bikes and e-scooters. Experts recommend e-bikes and e-scooters be stored in clean, dry, temperature-controlled environments away from direct sunlight. Advising residents to store these vehicles in a garage when possible is a prudent safety precaution.
Looking for guidance on creating rules? Read: Association Policy 101: How to Make Rules Without Making Enemies
Communicate the policy: Use email, online message boards, bulletin boards in common areas, your community newsletter, and social media to share information about the policy. Communicate the policy on a regular basis.
“Effective communication is the key to ensuring that policies are understood and more importantly, adhered to,” said Ilgim Hosea, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Keeping residents in the know about safety concerns and best practices around e-bike and e-scooter use means that communities can proactively address concerns and work to reduce the likelihood of an accident.”
Enforce it: Develop a step-by-step enforcement plan that outlines the entire process, including what happens when the e-bike/e-scooter policy is violated. It’s also important to be consistent when enforcing the policy to maintain a solid reputation with residents. Occasionally following through on fines or failing to enforce existing rules puts your association’s reputation at risk among residents and the community.
By creating awareness around e-bike and e-scooters, your board can foster a sense of safety and responsibility, creating a safer and more enjoyable environment for everyone in your community. For more information on how we work with boards to keep communities safe, contact FirstService Residential.