Herds of students made their way to class on Boston College’s Newton campus Thursday afternoon, some traveling by foot, others by bike or skateboard. Every once in a while, a student zipped by a lot faster than the rest using an e-scooter, a motorized scooter that can take a student from building to building as fast as 20 miles per hour.
But the electronic vehicle’s days are numbered.
Boston College’s administration announced plans to ban the use of e-scooters and other electronic transportation devices on campus in an email sent to the community Wednesday, citing concerns about the “health and personal safety of riders, pedestrians, and building occupants.”
Effective Dec. 22, devices such as hoverboards, electronic scooters, and e-skateboards will be prohibited, as well as the “use, storage, and charging” of such devices on all Boston College property, according to the email signed by Shawna Cooper Whitehead, vice president for student affairs, David Trainor, vice president for human resources, and William Evans, executive director of public safety.
“Many faculty, staff, and students have reported near-collisions and limited access to facilities because of scooters, and recharging lithium batteries in such vehicles has resulted in numerous fires around the United States,” officials said in the email. “Additionally, a number of BC students have suffered injuries from e-scooter falls, and such accidents have caused serious injuries on college campuses across the country.”
Electric bikes are the exception to this new rule, as long as riders abide by traffic regulations, secure the e-bike on an outdoor rack, and refrain from bringing the e-bike inside any Boston College facilities, according to the email.
Electronic transportation devices found on campus after Dec. 22 will be seized, with users subject to sanctions.
“In announcing the decision, BC joins a growing list of colleges and universities nationwide that are imposing campus-wide bans on electric scooters as a safety measure,” the school said in a press release on Wednesday.
Kayla Lezama, a freshman who studies psychology and plays for Boston College’s basketball team, said that she relies on the $300 e-scooter she bought with her own money to get from her dorm to basketball practice at the on-campus gym 15 minutes away.
“I probably practice for three hours plus a day. So by the end of the day, my legs are pretty tired,” Lezama said.
As news of the ban spread through campus, Lezama said the student athlete community was in shock, and that a full-on ban as opposed to safety restrictions is “alarming.”
The Boston College ban comes at a time when electric scooters and similar vehicles are in legal limbo in Massachusetts. State law permits motorized scooters under several conditions: The operator must possess a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit, the scooter must be “equipped with operational stop and turn signals so that the operator can keep both hands on the handlebars at all times,” and the scooters also may not exceed a speed of 20 miles per hour.
This law was created when mopeds rose in popularity, according to a Globe report. By treating e-scooters and electric bikes like mopeds, state law effectively renders them illegal because they often lack turn signals, the 2018 article says.
However, a bill sent to study by the Joint Committee on Transportation in July would differentiate between e-scooters and other devices like e-bikes and mopeds. It would allow e-scooters to be “operated where bicycles are permitted to travel,” and permit the operator “to use all public ways, except of limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting electric foot scooters or bicycles have been posted,” the bill states.
Newton, meanwhile, encourages residents to “green their transportation” by using electric vehicles like e-scooters as the “Take Action 4 Our Future” campaign to meet the city’s goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.
“Whether heading to work or off on errands, consider electrifying your ride with an e-bike or e-scooter,” the city says on its website.
But Boston College officials aren’t alone in their concerns about e-scooters. The National Fire Protection Organization says damaged lithium-ion batteries can overheat, catch on fire, and even lead to explosions.
“When fires occur, they also tend to burn very hot and can be difficult for firefighters to extinguish,” its website states, advising people to only purchase electric vehicles “listed by a nationally recognized testing lab and labeled accordingly,” and to be mindful of proper charging practices.
New York in recent years saw several explosions of such vehicles.
“Four times a week on average, an e-bike or e-scooter battery catches fire in New York City,” an October NPR article reported.
Just last month, more than three dozen people were injured in a fire in a high-rise apartment in New York caused by a faulty lithium battery inside a “unspecified micromobility device,” according to a WHDH report.
But many college campuses allow or even encourage e-scooter use. Harvard University allows students to use motorized scooters as long as they are registered and have a displayed permit, according to its website, and has parking areas across campus dedicated to e-scooters.
At Brown University, 100 e-scooters from micromobility company Spin were deployed across campus in fall 2021 in an effort to decrease the university’s transportation emissions, according to its website.
Bird, a transportation company that distributes e-scooters and supports Massachusetts’ new bill, hosted a “pop-up” with 150 universities and colleges across the United States “to meet student demand for environmentally friendly transportation options,” according to its website.
Other local colleges, however, do place some restrictions around the vehicles. Emerson College does not allow e-scooters or e-bikes to be stored in residence halls, while Northeastern University bans them on campus sidewalks or pedestrian walkways. Boston University warns users not to charge such vehicles in public areas.
Elsewhere in the country, colleges such as Marquette University in Milwaukee, San Jose State University, and Arizona State University have, like Boston College, banned these vehicles completely.
Boston College student Miranda Chen, who used an e-scooter before moving further from campus, said the ban feels “authoritarian.”
Still, she said many students ride scooters fast without taking safety precautions like wearing helmets or proper footwear.
“That doesn’t look safe,” Chen said.
Katy McBride, a sophomore studying communication, sent the Globe screenshots from an app called Herrd, an anonymous platform where Boston College students poked fun at the ban and student athletes who would suffer its consequences.
“THE GREAT SCOOTER BAN OF 2022: A DAY THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY,” one Herrd user wrote. “Just watched a football player open the email in class 😎😎😎😎,” another anonymous user wrote.