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Electric scooters could hit Pa. streets this year

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Harrisburg is among Lime's target cities for an electric scooter-rental program. But state legislation has to pass first to make the vehicles street legal in Pennsylvania.
Harrisburg is among Lime's target cities for an electric scooter-rental program. But state legislation has to pass first to make the vehicles street legal in Pennsylvania. - (Photo / )

An electric-scooter company is hoping to bring its two-wheeled green machines to Pennsylvania this year, and it wants to test the vehicles in Central Pennsylvania.

But first, it needs a change to state law.

Motorized scooters are not street legal in Pennsylvania, but California-based scooter company Lime is pushing to have state law amended to allow low-speed electric scooters. The change would allow the company and others like it to offer scooter rentals in Pennsylvania cities.

Cumberland County Republican Rep. Greg Rothman and Philadelphia Democratic Rep. Stephen Kinsey introduced legislation on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for that change. Their proposal, House Bill 631, would define low-speed electric scooters and put them under laws governing bicycles.

Electric scooters have been popping up on streets and sidewalks across the country over the last year, a rise that has generated its share of controversy. Some of it has been centered on concerns over safety for both pedestrians and riders. 

A representative for Lime said the company is working to address those concerns as it prepares to expand into Pennsylvania. In two years, Lime has grown its scooter-rental program to about 30 states and more than 90 cities, with more than 37 million rides logged.

The company has developed a new scooter with larger wheels, better suspension and a bigger footboard to make it more stable and easier to ride. Shari Shapiro, Lime's director of Mid-Atlantic government relations, said the company also has been investing in campaigns to promote safe riding, abiding by local traffic laws and parking properly.

Lime is targeting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to start, but hopes the Harrisburg, Hershey and Lancaster area as well as State College will quickly adopt pilot programs for its electric scooters in Pennsylvania. Shapiro said Lime would like to see those pilots begin when the law is changed. 

Shapiro said Monday she is optimistic that Pennsylvania pilot programs can get up and running this summer or fall.

The company's scooters can reach speeds up to 15 miles per hour on level ground, comparable to a bicycle but without the learning curve. They cost $1 to unlock with a smartphone or through a text-to-unlock option through the company's website and then 15 cents per minute to use.

Lime and other companies see electric scooters as a low-cost alternative for city residents, commuters and visitors who need to travel short distances. 

"It makes businesses more accessible for more people," Shapiro said.

Shapiro also said people, especially professionals, are more likely to use electric scooters over bikes because scooters require less physical exertion - and less sweat. The scooters also are dockless, so there are no designated stations where they have to be returned at the end of a ride.

Lime also looks to structure its rental programs so that cities receive a financial benefit. Shapiro said the company pays many cities a small percentage of the ride fees it collects.

The rental program also could create jobs, according to Shapiro. She said 10 to 30 people, both employees and independent contractors, are hired by Lime to service the scooters in each city. That includes roles like "juicers," people who pick up scooters with low battery life, charge them at home and put them back out on the street for rent.

In the event of bad weather, Lime employees or contractors also would take scooters off the streets, or limit how many are in use.

Pennsylvania is not the only state working to catch up with the growth of electric scooters. Several states and cities have been exploring legislative changes to allow electric scooters on their streets.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal.

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