The ubiquitous lime-colored bicycles disappeared from Reno yesterday, but that might not be the last time we all see shared mobility vehicles. A bill to define electric scooter laws in Nevada made it to committee at the Nevada Legislature March 25 and, if passed, could reopen new possibilities for shared scooter companies in the state.

Last year, the company Lime launched pedal-powered Lime Bikes in Reno as part of a pilot program to test Reno’s capacity to take on the new, popular shared mobility services. The bikes can be checked out, ridden around and parked for a small fee. But after hiccups – launching scooters too soon before they were deemed legal – the Reno City Council was displeased with Lime and the city’s staff lacked the resources to manage the program further. So, the City Council did not renew an agreement with Lime to continue bike sharing services in town.

In the meantime, Lime decided pedal-powered bikes were not profitable and moved on to host only electric scooter sharing like its competitors Bird and Spin.

“What we know is that the dockless bike share doesn’t sustain itself,” said Jonathan Hopkins, Lime director of strategic development in the northwest. “People ride the scooters more, it as simple as that.”

Hopkins said scooters ridership is many times higher than pedal bike ridership and were losing money on the bicycles.

“Think of a use case,” he said. “Bike riders probably have a bike and ride their bike. If you’re in high heels, are you going to hop on a bike? If it’s wet out and the seat’s wet are you going to sit? Are you going to ride around in a suit and get sweaty in the noon day heat in Reno? And that’s even for people who are 50-50 bikers. On top of that you’ll have people who never plan to ride a bike again but they’ll ride scooters.”

But for now, electric scooters are not legally recognized in Nevada. The cities of Reno and Sparks interpreted electric scooters as mopeds that require registration and licensing. The Reno City Council said they would entertain the idea of introducing scooters back to Reno once the Legislature had taken up the issue.

The new bill, AB485, proposes definitions for electric scooters and proposes rules governing them while creating opportunities for city and county governments to fill in variables.

Most notably the bill proposes:

  • “Electric foot scooters” are propelled by feet and an electric motor cannot weight more than 100 pounds and cannot exceed 20 MPH
  • These scooters would be exempt from DMV registration and licensing but drivers should be 16 or older
  • Local governments can adopt ordinances to regulate the scooters, such as imposing fees on the companies, restricting time and location of riding and other necessary requirements
Lime Scooter Reno
A model poses for photos on a Lime Scooter in City Plaza in downtown Reno. Photo by David Calvert, provided by Lime

Why electric scooters in Reno?

When Lime attempted to launch its electric scooters last year, a large list of businesses owners had signed a letter of support. Though that ultimately turned out to be against the council’s will, the businesses wanted the increased traffic the devices brought.

“They make experiencing a city so much more convenient,” Hopkins said. “These are tools that aid exploration and make business experiences all within reach.”

Hopkins argues that a business lunch could be made quicker if someone avoids going to their parking garage, driving through Midtown, finding a place to park and walking to their destination.

Or on the weekend, a scooter could bring multiple friends together for a shopping excursion around town.

It makes sense. With all the complaints about lack of parking in downtown and Midtown, a zippie electric scooter could make retail and restaurants feel closer together and cut down on driving short distances.

But that also requires host cities to determine how and where scooters and drive and park: such as in bike lanes, on sidewalks, on streets. It also requires cities to determine safety rules, such as requiring helmets or not.

If AB485 passes, it would allow Nevada cities to determine how they want to manage scooter sharing companies in the future, for example, if Reno wants more than one company competing or wants to continue with a franchise agreement that only allows one company at a time.

Sparks, for example, has already banned Lime, so the law would give them a chance to accept proposals from other companies.

But first, the bill needs to make its way through Assembly Growth and Infrastructure committee onto the assembly floor and into the senate in about 60 days. There are a lot of pieces to figure out, including scooter safety and restrictions on use and parking.

People can share their opinion on bills online at the Nevada Legislature’s website by selecting the bill (search for AB485).