Boston officials are ready to give electric scooters a whirl, but need help from the state first.
City transportation leaders on Monday told Boston city councilors they hope to launch a pilot program next spring that would allow private companies to rent electric-powered standing scooters off city sidewalks. Boston expects to develop details for the test by the winter.
But Chris Osgood, Boston’s chief of streets, said state lawmakers first need to clarify a law that apparently bans electric scooters if they do not have turn signals and brake lights. Scooters rented by the biggest companies in the industry — including California-based Lime and Bird — do not have both those safety features.
Cambridge and Somerville officials cited similar concerns when they banned Bird’s scooters from their streets after they showed up unannounced this summer.
Electric scooters are the latest unexpected transportation phenomenon to sweep US cities. But in many locations rental companies set up shop before local governments had a chance to adopt or change rules to allow for their safe use.
Now Boston is working with Cambridge and Somerville and other nearby communities to develop regional policies for scooters if they launch a rental program next year, transportation commissioner Gina Fiandaca said.
The cities hope to set rules about where the scooters, which are typically rented on sidewalks, can be stored; the number of scooters that would be allowed in the region; data-sharing requirements from the rental companies; and how the scooters would be distributed across neighborhoods.
Boston’s openness to the idea comes after Mayor Martin J. Walsh in July threatened to confiscate any rental scooters and said he worried about whether they’d be safe for pedestrians. City Councilor Ed Flynn on Monday said he’s open to the scooters as “an interesting way to try to alleviate some of the congestion” in the city, but stressed that the city rules must strive to prevent crashes and keep sidewalks clear enough for pedestrians.