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 or around the neighborhood.
You're in the right place if you have questions about e-scooters and e-bikes but don’t know where to start.
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. For those with physical limitations or who find traditional biking challenging, e-bikes can be an effective alternative.
Like e-bikes, e-scooters also have electric motors, but they differ in that the rider usually stands up while using 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 involves plugging the charging unit into a wall outlet. Charging an e-bike typically takes between 3.5 and 6 hours. The range of a fully charged bike can vary from 20 to 100 miles, depending on factors like pedaling speed, terrain and the user’s weight. On the other hand, E-scooters require a charging time between 4 and 20 hours and offer a range of 15 to 30 miles, depending on usage conditions.
What are some benefits of using them?
Besides being convenient, both transportation methods can also be environmentally friendly. According to National Geographic, using e-bikes to replace car trips can reduce CO2 emissions by 225 kilograms annually. Also, e-bikes and e-scooters require very little storage space and emit very little noise compared to other modes of transportation.
This type of electric transportation is also cost effective. Despite their upfront costs, e-bikes and e-scooters are more affordable than cars or motorcycles because they don't require 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. It’s also important to note that e-scooter regulations vary from city to city. Some cities only allow e-scooters to be used in certain areas and may have specific requirements related to the number of people who can ride at one time. Speed and location rules, as well as whether scooters can be used on sidewalks or streets, also vary from city to city.
As with e-scooters, the laws governing e-bikes include state laws as well as city ordinances, so check with your property management company and your association’s counsel to confirm which ones apply to your municipality.
What are some safety concerns related to e-bikes and e-scooters?
Sidewalk clutter: “E-bike sidewalk clutter,” or “e-scooter littering,” occurs when e-bikes or e-scooters are left on sidewalks, blocking walkways that could put pedestrians at risk of falling.
Inexperienced or reckless riders: Many e-bike and e-scooter riders lack experience operating them, leading to unsafe riding behaviors such as weaving through traffic, speeding or ignoring signals or traffic laws. Furthermore, using these vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can impair judgment and coordination.
Fires: Most e-bikes and e-scooters contain lithium-ion batteries that could ignite if exposed to the wrong conditions. In fact, e-bike and e-scooter fires are on the rise across the country. 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. As the popularity of these vehicles continues to grow, more states could see incidents such as the one that occurred at a FirstService-managed community in Florida.
Following the manufacturer's instructions, a resident plugged in his new e-bike for charging and briefly left his unit to grab a snack. He returned a few minutes later to find his unit engulfed in flames after the bike's battery had exploded. Although the cause of the explosion remains unclear, it immediately raised concerns about the use of e-bikes within 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.”
Riders of e-bikes and e-scooters should also be aware of the dangers of exposing these and other lithium-ion-powered vehicles to salt water. Exposure to salt water significantly increases fire risk.
Protecting your property and ensuring the safety of your residents is crucial when it comes to e-bikes and e-scooters. Your management company can help you create policies that are best for your community.
What can be done to address e-bike and e-scooter safety concerns?
Create community awareness: Educate residents about e-bike and e-scooter best practices, and discuss them at your next association meeting. Your board may even consider hosting an on-site safety workshop conducted by local authorities. Residents are more likely to adopt safe practices when they are aware of potential hazards.
Establish a policy: Create an e-bike and e-scooter policy for your community if it doesn't already have one, making sure it complies with your community's governing documents. The policy should contain specific rules and regulations for their use, addressing speed, riding areas, abandoned or improperly parked e-bikes and e-scooters, and storage. 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: Information about the policy can be shared via email, online message boards, bulletin boards in common areas, your community newsletter, and on social media.
“Effective communication plays a vital role in ensuring community safety measures are well-understood and adhered to,” said Danny Ellis, president at FirstService Residential. “By keeping residents informed about e-bike/e-scooter safety concerns, we can work together to combat potential accidents and hazards to foster a more informed and safer community.”
Enforce it: Prepare a step-by-step enforcement plan that details the entire process, including what happens when e-bike/e-scooter policies are violated. It’s also important to be consistent when enforcing the policy to maintain a solid reputation with residents. Following through on fines or failing to enforce existing rules can damage your association's reputation among residents.
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.