As electronic scooters have proliferated the streets of Brookline, so have a host of safety complaints, including riders not using helmets and zooming on sidewalks.
Lime, one of the companies participating in the town’s e-scooter pilot program, has been offering free classes to familiarize people with the vehicles and their regulations — otherwise strewn on town sidewalks for residents to learn on their own. The town’s pilot program began in April and ends Nov. 15.
Diana Chen, a university financial management worker from Boston, attended a lesson Sept. 21 hoping the scooters could be helpful for her commute. She started off stumbling and ended zipping around on her own.
“I thought, it's light like a toy, because I saw kids are playing with it. It looks like a toy but no, no, it's real,” she said. “It's more practice — just like driving a car.”
Chen was among about 14 who attended the company’s free September “First Ride Academy” in Brookline. Saturday’s program was the first e-scooter experience for many in the class, clad in yellow safety vests and complimentary Lime helmets.
Lime and Bird scooters first came to Brookline in April, with Spin joining later in the summer. At the time of the launch, town officials said they hoped the pilot would show whether or not scooters could help make Brookline transportation more accessible, equitable and eco-friendly.
In six months, the town has logged almost 140,000 rides, according to Select Board Member Heather Hamilton. Now the pilot is winding down, after much excitement and much concern for road safety.
At the Sept. 21 training, Lime staff reviewed rules for the road and walked students through the Lime app. After learning to brake and ride at the Coolidge Corner School, students got to practice in traffic on Harvard and Beacon streets, as well as less busy residential roads.
Scooters aren’t for everyone, said Scott Mullen, Lime’s director of expansion for the Northeast region.
“Some people after 30 minutes say, ‘You know what, I don't think this is for me,’ and that's great that they got to come out in a controlled environment and learn that because this isn't for everyone,” he said. “But it really is something that a lot of people have gravitated towards.”
Lime requires riders to wear helmets but does not provide the equipment with parked scooters. However, Lime does distribute free helmets as part of its safety and education campaign. Some students, like Allston environmental scientist Ian James, came for that souvenir alone. He thinks people will break the helmet and sidewalk rules until someone holds them accountable.
“You're supposed to wear a helmet, and you're supposed to be not on the sidewalk,” he said. “There's no way I'm driving down Mass Ave on a little tiny piece of metal in the hopes that I won't be turned into, you know, debris on the side.”
“There are on-going safety concerns over underage riders, riders without helmets and some folks riding on the sidewalks,” said Brookline Fire Chief John Sullivan, adding that other concerns include tripping hazards and improper parking. “These are legitimate concerns and are being addressed by BPD as they are known,” he said.
Hamilton said Friday afternoon she is aware of 10 e-scooter-related accidents occurring over the course of the pilot — four called in to police and six reported by e-scooter companies. Most injuries were minor scrape-ups, she said, but in serious, much-reported instance on the pilot’s launch day in April, a woman who her balance and went to the hospital for a head laceration.
Still, convenience is king for e-scooter riders. Jose Nunez, a medical researcher from Allston, said he sees helmets as a larger investment than what his spontaneous scooter habits call for.
“I don't usually use the scooters that frequently so yeah, that's why I don't have a helmet,” he said. “If I need to go to the bookstore or I need to go to the supermarket, I just go and it's gonna take you like five minutes or something, so that's really useful.”
Hamilton said the town will turn some parking spots into scooter corrals to decrease sidewalk rides and careless parking in the final months of the pilot program.
A Public Safety Subcommittee meeting took place at Town Hall Sept. 25 to address the upcoming end of the pilot, she said. There will also be a feedback forum on the scooters Oct. 23.
Janice Kahn, Public Safety Committee chair, called the pilot’s end a “pause” on the e-scooter program.
“It’s just waiting for guidance and regulations,” she said.
Hachem Alaoui Soce, Lime’s Northeast general manager, said during Saturday’s training that the company hopes to have scooters back on the road in Brookline, Boston, Cambridge and Somerville in spring 2020.
Trainees like Chen left Saturday’s lesson excited for e-scooter possibilities.
“I feel I got it now,” she said. “So I feel achieved, accomplished — it's a happy experience.”
Lucy Levin is a Boston University journalism student writing as part of a collaboration between the Brookline Tab and BU News Service.