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Starts & Stops

Boston still waiting on scooter legalization

A man on a scooter crossed Green Line tracks on Beacon Street.
A man on a scooter crossed Green Line tracks on Beacon Street.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/file

The jury is still out on whether electric scooter rentals will be a viable form of transportation in the long-term. For now, though, they’re pretty common on the downtown sidewalks of some major cities, where anyone with a smartphone and a credit card can unlock one and hit the road.

Except in Greater Boston. Many cities and towns have been generally reluctant to open up to scooter companies such as Lime and Bird. They cite state law that was designed for mopeds but that officials believe makes powered scooters illegal under Massachusetts law because they lack turn signals. This applies to both rental scooters and those privately owned, although it appears local police rarely enforce the law.

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Brookline and Salem had allowed companies to rent scooters in their communities, and did not get any pushback from the state. Even so, the lack of clarity in state law is causing issues. Brookline, for example, suspended its scooter program after an eight-month pilot program and likely won’t resume it until neighboring cities also agree to adopt them.

“We learned what we could from our pilot,” said Heather Hamilton, a member of the town’s selectboard who led the push for the scooter test. “In order to do a pilot where we’re going to get more information, it needs to be in a bigger geographic area.”

Hamilton said surveys showed that a surprisingly high rate of the more than 100,000 scooter rentals in Brookline last year replaced what would have otherwise been walking trips. She attributed that to the small area of movement within the town’s borders, as the average ride was less than a mile.

Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation more than a year ago that would allow scooters on public roads without turn signals, but the Legislature has not acted on it. However, state Representative William Straus, co-chair of the Legislature’s transportation committee, said he hopes they are legalized before the summer.

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Lime had been otherwise active in the region until recently, operating a rental service for electric-powered bicycles in several suburbs of Boston through an agreement with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. But the company recently told MAPC it would not be returning next year. Instead, company officials say they are focusing on scooter rentals and hope to bring them to the Boston area as soon as they’re allowed.

“Our business is changing a lot around the world,” said Lime spokesman Russ Murphy. “The Boston area is one of the few markets that kept bikes as long as they did.”

Still, even in places where scooters are legal and encouraged, Lime recently dropped its service in a dozen communities where it wasn’t making enough money, including cities with better year-round conditions than Boston, such as San Diego and San Antonio.

RealID becomes reality

It’s 2020, meaning that one long-awaited deadline will hit travelers later this year. For those who use their Massachusetts driver’s license to board a plane, they will have to switch over to the new RealID license by October.

A traditional Massachusetts license will no longer be accepted as identification for flights, or to enter federal buildings, after that date; a passport, though, is still an acceptable identification at those venues.

The federal rule was taken up as an anti-terrorism measure during the George W. Bush administration. Drivers need additional proof of identity to get a RealID (see list at mass.gov/realid) and they cannot be renewed online — meaning it’s time for a visit to a Registry of Motor Vehicles branch.

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Massachusetts began offering RealID in 2018 and initially experienced huge crowds at RMV locations. But the long lines may return as the October deadline approaches. To save time, you can go online to start the application and finish it off at a Registry office. Local branches of AAA also issue RealID licenses.

So far, about 1.4 million Massachusetts residents have gotten a RealID.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.