A Tech Stakeholder Group Is Solidifying Its Presence in the Scooter Regulatory Arena

NetChoice eyes restrictive markets for advocacy work as it releases new e-scooter guidelines

A woman rides a Bird shared dockless electric scooter along Venice Beach on Aug. 13, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

After publishing its first white paper examining regulations of dockless e-scooters, a Washington e-commerce group representing the likes of Google, Lyft Inc. and Airbnb Inc. said it expects to lean more into micromobility issues in 2020.

NetChoice, which also includes e-scooter company Lime among its members, will release its guidelines Tuesday on how city officials should approach e-scooters, including proposals related to scooter curfews, speed limits and geofencing. The proposal makes NetChoice one of the few Washington tech groups focusing on a space typically saturated by transportation advocacy groups and city officials.

Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, said in an interview that over the past few years, the trade association’s micromobility advocacy has consisted of meetings with city and state officials, appearances at local city council meetings and newspaper op-eds, with those efforts expected to increase in 2020.

While a spokesperson said the group is still sizing up which markets and lawmakers to specifically target, NetChoice is more likely to be attracted to cities with restrictive policies, such as limits on scooter speed, riding locations or permitting for providers. As an example, the spokesperson cited a curfew in Cleveland, where residents can’t rent a device after 7 p.m.

The organization’s new 27-page research paper, called “Moving Forward: Exposing Discriminatory Actions Against Scooters,” will serve as a sort of jumping-off point for its planned expanded advocacy work. 

“What I’m hoping is that city officials take a look at this paper and then take a look at themselves in the mirror and realize that some of the rules and restrictions they’re putting down are just silly and pull them back,” Szabo said.

NetChoice’s expected increased work differs from that of the Consumer Technology Association, which counts Uber Technologies Inc., Bird Inc., Lyft and Lime as members and is one of the only other D.C.-based tech groups working on these issues. CTA has not undertaken much direct advocacy work, but included micromobility issues as a primary measure in its 2020 U.S. Innovation Scorecard report.

Jamie Boone, CTA’s vice president of government affairs, said in a statement that regulations and standards on the topic “should be balanced and responsible — and not stand in the way of innovation.”

But Nicole Payne, the program manager overseeing micromobility issues at the National Association of City Transportation Officials, said that although working with companies and industry groups is essential, regulation of scooters, bikes and other alternative mobility devices is best left to cities.

“Cities really have the best idea and have the best connection with the public to decide what the appropriate number of vehicles are, what the appropriate policy will be to phasing up or phasing down depending on what policies they adopt and how these companies reach or don’t reach these standards,” she said. 

Payne said it’s important to ensure cities remain the main regulators of these devices, especially with an increasing number of industries entering the micromobility space within the past few years and more scooter-share and bike-share programs launching through private actors rather than as city projects. 

“Right now, there is a lot of VC money, so it’s not totally surprising that tech advocacy groups are throwing their hats in the ring,” she said. 

NetChoice is advocating a more general approach to micromobility regulation, rather than limiting restrictive policies to scooters. Szabo said such policies targeting scooters alone have been developed out of fear of the new transportation device entering markets, likening it to the regulatory pushback faced by bicycles when they were popularized in the early 1900s.

Instead, Szabo said, city officials should welcome scooters as a viable alternative transportation option.

“At the end of the day, cities’ population keeps growing, and trying to solve congestion with more roads is like trying to solve a hangover with more alcohol,” Szabo said. “It just doesn’t work.”

This story has been updated to include the link to NetChoice’s white paper.

Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted Payne on VC money.

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