Skip to content

October 2022 - Episode 8

Electric Scooter Bans

On May 15th, 2022, the Black community of St. Louis, Missouri gathered downtown to celebrate the Annie Malone May Day Parade. Annie Malone was one of the first Black women to become a millionaire in the United States.

The day after the parade, Public Safety Director Dan Isom held a press conference. He said that groups of young people downtown had caused traffic and safety disruptions with electric scooters. The city decided to impose a 7pm curfew on electric scooters in the downtown area.

Then, just a few weeks later, St. Louis banned electric scooters altogether in two downtown neighborhoods, including the area near the famous Gateway Arch monument. The ban was in response to a shooting where two young women were injured. But the bullets were fired from a car – not an electric scooter.

Links:

E-scooter-under-lights
Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

Charles T. Brown:
On May 15th, 2022, the black community of St. Louis, Missouri gathered downtown to celebrate the Annie Malone Mayday Parade. Annie Malone was one of the first black women to become a millionaire in the United States. The day after the parade, Public Safety Director Dan Isom held a press conference. He said that groups of young people downtown had caused traffic and safety disruptions with electric scooters. The city decided to impose a 7:00 PM curfew on e-scooters in the downtown area. Then just a few weeks later, St. Louis banned e-scooters all together in two downtown neighborhoods, including the area near the famous Gateway Arch Monument.

Speaker 2:
The scooters have become a issue that we do not have the resources to monitor in such a way we can keep young people from being engaged in dangerous behavior. So those will be shut off until further notice.

Charles T. Brown:
The ban was in response to a shooting where two young women were injured, but the bullets were fired from a car, not an e-scooter. So why were e-scooters banned and how did we get here?

Speaker 2:
Luckily, there were no fatalities in this incident, but that does not take away from the dangerous and serious issue of unsupervised kids roaming the streets downtown.

Charles T. Brown:
Restricting micromobility options such as e-scooters is just one way that black Americans have had their mobility arrested. Today we’re questioning the decision to ban e-scooters in downtown St. Louis and breaking down how these decisions harm people of color and people relying on alternative modes of transportation. I am Charles T. Brown and this is Arrested Mobility. Thanks for joining us. Micromobility options like e-scooters and shared bikes can be very valuable in the communities with subpar public transit access and low car ownership. Riding an e-scooter to or from a bus station is an affordable way to make commuting faster and easier. It can also be safer to take micromobility in some situations In June, journalists and pedestrian rights Advocate Kia Wilson wrote an article about what happened in St. Louis.

Kea Wilson:
My name is Kea Wilson. I am senior editor at Streetsblog USA.

Charles T. Brown:
Hi Kea, welcome to Arrested Mobility. You wrote about the e-scooter band in St. Louis. Can you give us a brief summary and explain why you decided to write about it?

Kea Wilson:
Yeah, so it’s a long and complicated story, but I think the short version basically is that St. Louis has always had a really complicated relationship with not just the micromobility industry, but with alternative ways of getting around kind of period. That kind of came to a head this past summer when actually, I believe for the second time St. Louis made the really controversial decision to ban e-scooters in the downtown area, specifically this little chunk of the city right near the arch where a lot of our tourist activity is happening, where a lot of our high volume office buildings are located, and it’s also bordering some of the areas of the city with the least access to private automobiles, right? So we had a news article come out from Fox two with the very interesting headline, Electric scooters banned in downtown St. Louis after weekend violence.

And that weekend violence was a drive-by shooting in an automobile, a scooter wasn’t involved. And basically, the justification that the city gave publicly and that residents talked to journalists about was that scooters are “magnets for kids,” even though scooters can’t really technically be rented by people under 18, they’re photo verified and all that kind of good stuff. And there are some things that I perceived to be kind of dog whistly in the way that that was reported. I thought that seemed like a pretty extreme measure to take away an entire mode of transportation because a form of that vehicle might have been related in some way. There was some insinuation that scooters were being used possibly as a getaway vehicle. I don’t even know where that’s coming from because again, I’ve contacted the city many times and I’ve never seen that verified. So I decided I wanted to dig into it a little bit for Streets blog, and it opened up a broader conversation about scooter bans, scooter curfews, scooter regulation nationally. This seems to be a trend.

Charles T. Brown:
Let’s rewind a little bit. Before the ban, there was the Annie Malone Day parade and the 7:00 PM curfew on e-scooters. So aside from the drive-by shooting, do you think there’s a reason why the parade was the impetus for the first restrictions we saw?

Kea Wilson:
I asked myself that when I was writing this story a lot because I mean, just anecdotally, just as a St. Louis resident, I’ve been to a lot of parades throughout the St. Louis area that were not historically African-American parades that had scooters at them. People took the scooter to go to the parade. It’s a great way to avoid traffic on the way. We actually talk a lot about how scooters are a fantastic form factor for getting for those large events, so we don’t have to provide a giant parking crater for everybody to go there. And I have not seen this level of attention paid to any other, more frankly, white focused event throughout the St. Louis area. We just had the balloon glow in St. Louis in Forest Park where we light up these gorgeous hot air balloons and families from all over the country come and people rode their scooters into the park, and that was not treated as some major disruption or threat to public safety.

I didn’t attend the Annie Malone Day parade. Maybe there were individual people who were behaving in ways that were dangerous to pedestrians there, and that’s a problem. We need to talk about it. I would prefer ideally through systems-based technology approaches, like saying, “Hey, you can’t ride a scooter.” Physically, it’s not going to turn on, on these days at this time. That’s something that a private company can do and has done in other cities, but those individual problems are not the way that everybody rides. There are plenty, plenty, plenty of people who ride scooters safely all the time. In fact, I’ve heard some really interesting stats from Lime and Bird that St. Louis is one of the safest cities for scooter riders. They have a incredibly low percentage of rides that report injuries.

Charles T. Brown:
Lime is one of the biggest micromobility vendors in the world. Let’s hear a perspective from Lee Foley Lime’s, director of government relations. Lee has worked with the city of St. Louis on implementing e-scooters in a safe and equitable way.

Lee Foley:
My name is Lee Foley. I am the director of government and community relations for the Midwest for Lime, and I have led our government and community relations in the city of St. Louis and worked with the city directly to ensure that scooter safety is a top priority as it always is for Lime.

Charles T. Brown:
Thanks, Lee. What are your thoughts on the e-scooter ban in downtown St. Louis?

Lee Foley:
I’m incredibly disappointed by the city’s decision to ban scooters downtown. And what preceded this was a curfew that the city implemented a 7:00 PM curfew earlier this year that prevented riders from using the devices when they need it the most. What we’ve seen as an operator, what Lime has seen is that the vast majority of our trips begin in the middle of the workday and peaks around rush hour. And a large concentration of our trips are in downtown and downtown west. And so when you implement a curfew that prevents people from being able to take a safe, affordable, sustainable mode like Lime scooters home from work downtown, or prevent them from using them at all, we know that that has a negative impact on not only our ridership, but the city’s health by further clogging up the city’s streets and limiting the ways that people are able to get around the city.

Charles T. Brown:
What responsibility does Lime have regarding young people using your e-scooters?

Lee Foley:
We have a responsibility to our riders and to the cities that we partner with to ensure that underage riders are not using our devices. Lime devices are for people who are over the age of 18, and we have the technology in place. We have had the technology in place in St. Louis to prevent just that. The difficulty comes into play when there’s more than one operator. When there is another operator that chooses to skirt the rules and who does not have restrictions in place, it reflects negatively on the entire industry, or in this case, in the market for St. Louis. From Lime’s perspective, we take our responsibility seriously to ensure that underage riding is not happening, that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that the city is safe in the presence of scooters, in the presence of automobile traffic, in the presence of youth.

Charles T. Brown:
How might the e-scooter ban disproportionately affect people of color in St. Louis?

Lee Foley:
What we’ve seen in many of the cities in which we serve is the recovery is the top priority for cities. And that is not untrue for the city of St. Louis where there are many stadiums where there’s the casino, even employees at Gateway Arch are people who do not necessarily live downtown or downtown west. The way that we are able to see trips starts and trip ends, we know that many of these trips start downtown and they end in other neighborhoods, particularly on the north side. And if we were to use geography as a marker for demographics within the city, and again, it’s true based off of the history of the city, then we know that there are many black and brown residents who are using these devices to get back to neighborhoods that are predominantly black and brown. And so if you were to imagine someone who perhaps took an early bus, got on the metro bus and took it from their neighborhood on the north side and took the bus downtown to say Bush Stadium, and they worked their shift and now it’s the evening time, perhaps the bus is a little bit less reliable.

They see an e-scooter and they believe it to be the safest, quickest, most efficient way to get home, and that person is able then to leave downtown on city streets and return back to their own neighborhood and prepare for the next day. That’s how micromobility fits and particularly fits in within working class people who require numerous means of transportation when a car is not the first thing on their mind because they may not own one. And so again, when you remove that option, when you begin to limit mobility options, you’re directly affecting working class people. It’s not just the stereotype of Tech Bros who use our devices. These are people who live in the city’s neighborhoods who require them to get from point A to point B, and that’s usually from home to work or from work to home.

Charles T. Brown:
The technology that e-scooter companies use is pretty advanced. Lime has the power to turn off or control the speed of their vehicles in certain areas. When you set geographic boundaries and restrict certain areas, we call that geofencing. According to GPS data from Lime, e-scooters in St. Louis are frequently used for trips going to and from the northern neighborhoods of the city. These also happen to be lower income neighborhoods with larger black and brown populations. You might have heard of the Delmar Divide . Here is Kea Wilson again, to explain.

Kea Wilson:
So a thing that St. Louis is known for nationally is called the Delmar Divide. Delmar Avenue is a street that runs pretty much all the way across the entire width of St. Louis, east to west. And when you get above north of Delmar, you have neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly African-American, overwhelmingly lower income, have far, far less access to private automobiles and to high quality transit. When you get south of that… Basically the further south you go, the more uniformly white it gets, generally speaking. So when you think about that in the context of a mobility landscape, as you look at traffic violence trends throughout the St. Louis region, the pedestrian fatalities, bicyclist fatalities are more concentrated per capita on the north side. Almost all of our high crash corridors are happening in those north side neighborhoods where we’re building roads that are incredibly wide. Major arterials signed for 35 miles an hour or more often with speeds that are a lot faster than that. And you’re also seeing a lot of people who rely on those roads to get to work, and they’re getting there on foot a lot of the time. It shouldn’t surprise us that we’re going to have people want to enjoy other modes of transportation when their mobility is that constrained by geography, by finances, and also by the fact that they frankly are being surveilled by police, a lot of the time in those communities.

Charles T. Brown:
Many people who live north of the Delmar Divide don’t own a car, but still need to get downtown to work. Banning micromobility in those downtown neighborhoods just makes their commute more difficult and potentially dangerous. Malik Lindell is a young man living in the northern part of the St. Louis metropolitan area. He’s an outspoken supporter of alternative transportation and with good reason. St. Louis actually has some of the highest traffic and pedestrian fatality rates in the country. I asked him for his thoughts on the e-scooter ban downtown.

Malik Lindell:
I am Malik Lindell. I am currently employed by the University of Missouri St. Louis. In the past summer, I’ve worked for a Red Circle. I was disappointed to see the ban, mostly because of the increase in car violence that we’ve seen, and there was no attempt to make a ban on cars or to have car free zones, even though those were actually killing people. They’re taking away the little bit of the few alternatives that exist in the city instead of trying to make them more accessible.

Charles T. Brown:
How do you feel this ban has or might affect people of color, low income people or people without cars?

Malik Lindell:
I think it’ll just make it just that much harder for people to have ideal travel. I mean, some people might be able to walk the extra distance, but that can be tiring. And a lot of areas already aren’t really walkable in the region. Some communities can’t really access grocery stores and some communities can’t access medical care. And with the e-scooters, a lot of them aren’t even present in those communities to begin with. I know they were banned in downtown and downtown west, but they’re already not present in the communities that would also probably benefit them in North St. Louis City. I’d say a North St. Louis County, which has many of the same problems as North St. Louis City. And I know a lot of the issues I see include not having access to a local grocery store. I have to go to two different cities to get to a save a lot.

I can’t get to it by simply walking. Ideally, I’d have to ride a car or wait for a bus. And so not having access to healthy food that I can just get to by walking, that’s obviously stressful because I’d like to be able to eat healthfully. I know a lot of other people in my community would like to be able to eat healthfully. So I feel like not being able to access healthy foods, not being able to go to get medical care, not being able to have a lot of jobs locally because I’m fortunate that I have a job locally, but there’s really not a lot of options in the region. So I would say that regarding the psyche, it could be stressful and it could feel like you’re trapped sometimes because you’re not able to actually do things in your own community. And so it can be very limiting. I’m a commuter myself. I walk to places. I’ll take the bus, I’ll take the train, but I’m not privileged enough to be able to just drive anywhere or to afford to have a car. So for me, it’s important that I’m able to be safe without owning a car. I feel like you shouldn’t have to own a car to have the basic human needs.

St. Louis has this problem of sort of taking a problem that kind of doesn’t really exist and blaming it on some random piece of transportation, whether it’s blaming the metro for bringing violence to other communities. I remember I was listening to a podcast where they were discussing a vote that happened in St. Charles, which is the county next door to St. Louis County. And they mentioned how they voted against the metro coming into their county because supposedly it would keep out a certain demographic of people that is black people. And so a lot of this pushback against various forms of transit ultimately come down to just policing black people. And St. Louis has this tendency to push against these alternative transportation modes because of that.

Charles T. Brown:
One suburb in St. Louis County is Ferguson where Mike Brown was killed by police in 2014. Following protests and unrest, and the wake of his shooting, Ferguson and St. Louis launched a collaborative project called Equity Indicators. The goal was to make progress towards racial equity in St. Louis police, public safety and health departments among others. The city brought in Cristina Garmendia to help with the plan. She has extensive knowledge of how local governments in the county operate.

Cristina Garmendia:
My name’s Cristina Garmendia and principal at the research consulting firm Urban Rx.

Charles T. Brown:
What is your reaction to the e-scooter ban downtown?

Cristina Garmendia:
I think it was really a signal that we aren’t prepared to enforce against reckless driving. We’re trying to control people who have less rights. Young people, people who are using scooters are not the enemy here. Yeah. So I do think it was a knee-jerk response. And one of the challenges we have in St. Louis is there is conflict between pedestrian scooters and cars in downtown St. Louis because we don’t have great roads. We don’t have consistent bike lanes, we don’t have great sidewalks. But yeah, when there’s conflict between people on scooters and pedestrians and cars, it’s really more of an indicator of the lack of investment we’ve had in our infrastructure than having to do with individuals themselves.

Charles T. Brown:
What do you think the city should have done instead of banning e-scooters in those neighborhoods?

Cristina Garmendia:
I would’ve preferred them to have invested in young people and invested in infrastructure for young people. We have more funds than ever before. So St. Louis has a billion dollar budget, and we’re receiving $500 million from the federal government for the ARPA funds, the pandemic response. And we really need to be investing more in the social lives of our young people. They need to be socialized. They need community. And if you see bad behavior out in the public sphere, it’s a sign that you should be putting more love into people.

Charles T. Brown:
A billion dollars is a lot of money. What else should St. Louis invest in to keep people safe?

Cristina Garmendia:
We’ve heard from our own police department that they’re not succeeding in policing bad drivers. So we need to be building infrastructure that forces better driving. And we don’t have great crosswalks in the city. It’s not very pedestrian friendly. And the kind of city that I think we want to live in is one where there’s community on the street and there’s people all around, people who walk to and from work, who walk for pleasure, God forbid. And our infrastructure isn’t built for them. It’s built for people to pass through downtown, people who work and then live out in the burbs, in their mansions, and it’s not for people that live here. So I think first and foremost, we need to invest in our infrastructure for the people that live here.

Charles T. Brown:
It is incredibly important that our communities work to invest in young people and invest in safer infrastructure for people without cars. But for Kea Wilson, combating harmful media narratives about micromobility is another important step to keeping transportation in St. Louis accessible.

Kea Wilson:
In terms of solution, my mantra in all the work that I do that I’ve learned from the many advocates I cover is that we always need to think about this stuff structurally. Always, always, always. So if the problem we’re trying to address is scooters on sidewalks, geofence the sidewalks, build a lane, whether it’s a pop-up bike lane or mobility lane, as we should probably call them in the context of a scooter story or a permanent protected concrete and jersey barrier kind of lane, we need to give people a place to ride. I also think that we need to understand how this issue connects to the most critical issues in people’s lives. Mobility touches everything. Everything, everything. We don’t know in St. Louis exactly how this impacted people, but we do know from other cities like Atlanta that has done scooter curfews at least, that there have been some really passionate op-eds from women in the community, for instance, who said, “Hey, I don’t really love going home from the bus stop after dark on foot. I would like to be on a scooter at that point.”

And this is not a neutral thing. You cut off, not just a mode of travel I rely on, but a mode of travel that I rely on to feel safe and to feel welcome, and those sort of second order effects that are demographic specific, that are invisibilized that we don’t put together on surveys, I think we need to start thinking about either through quantitative data or through qualitative data, just talking to people. It’s not just about scooters, right? It’s about giving people dignified access to their places, however they want to get around them. When you deny someone access to mobility, whether that is physically taking away their primary mode of transportation, whether that is removing a mode of travel that they use just to enjoy themselves, that makes their life very different, and that can impact them not just economically and socially, but also their happiness, their sense of humanity, their sense of belonging, and the sense that the city belongs to them, which it does at the end of the day.

The near north side, that’s the downtown. Yeah, there’s a very, very steep drop off in terms of tall skyscrapers between what we call the downtown and St. Louis and what we call Jeff-Vander-Lou in the [inaudible 00:26:06] and neighborhoods like that, but it’s still the same area. We’re a small city. We’re a city of 300,000 people, and I believe that we should all have safe, dignified, joyful access to every inch of it that we want to be able to access.

Charles T. Brown:
St. Louis and Atlanta aren’t the only large American cities that are restricting micromobility options. Just this year, Detroit, Memphis and Cincinnati have imposed curfews on e-scooters. These also happen to be highly segregated cities with sizable black populations. If e-scooter bans continue in this fashion, it won’t be tech bros who suffer. For black pedestrians, commuters, students, and everyday folks trying to be healthy, safe, and happy, this is Arrested Mobility in Action. I want to thank my guests, Kea Wilson, Lee Foley, Malik Lindell, and Cristina Garmendia. I appreciate your expertise and your time.

For Arrested Mobility, I am Charles T. Brown. I encourage you to follow me on social media, @ctbrown1911 on Twitter or using hashtag Arrested Mobility. Visit our website and sign up for our email newsletter at arrestedmobility.com. You can follow Arrested Mobility on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. This podcast is a production of Equitable Cities with support from Puddle Creative. I also want to acknowledge the tragedy that took place this week in St. Louis at the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. My heart goes out to the victims, the families and the community at large.