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Spin scooters pose legal complications

A House bill that can determine the future of Spin scooters at NMSU is being presented at the current New Mexico legislative session. If passed, motorized scooters, like the Spin ones, would be subject to the same rules as bicycles under the motor vehicle code.

Spin is an electric scooter-sharing company owned by Ford that launched a 60-day trial program this semester on the NMSU Las Cruces campus.  Those looking to ride a Spin scooter must download the Spin app, which provides a map with locations of nearby scooters along with each scooter’s battery percentage. The app is needed for users to pay for the scooters, which cost a $1 flat rate per ride, followed by $0.15 per minute.

Four electric Spin scooters sit parked on the sidewalk outside of the Barnes & Noble bookstore at New Mexico State University on Feb. 22, 2019. (Photo by Jessica Fernandez/Kokopelli)

Under the current Motor Vehicle Code, electric scooters could be considered motor vehicles under state law due to their motor power, which poses legal challenges according to NMSU Chief of Police Stephen Lopez. “Scooters have been around for 70 to 80 years. This particular concept of how they are deployed and making them power scooters is the new part. It is also the part that is causing the challenges,” Lopez said. The House bill would explicitly exclude electric scooters from motor vehicle regulations.

Defined strictly as motor vehicles, Spin scooters would be illegal on sidewalks. According to Chief Lopez, those who are caught riding on either sidewalks or bike lanes could be cited. This also means that riders need insurance and are legally obligated to report any injuries to the police.

As of now, the Spin app does not inform riders of these requirements. “Ultimately, I expect half the companies that are providing scooters out there will be bankrupt within the next couple of years,” Lopez said.

Lopez predicts this because companies providing scooters, such as Spin, have not taken the necessary steps to meet regulations. “That’s the problem with these things coming out before the laws are written to address them,” Lopez said.

Chief Lopez traveled to Santa Fe to stand in support of the House bill. On Feb. 26, the bill, which is titled “No Electric Foot Scooters in Vehicle Code,” received a Do Pass recommendation by committee. The bill has to pass through several more committees in both legislative chambers by the March 14 deadline in order to be enacted.

While ASNMSU facilitated the program, the Spin company is responsible for the scooters. According to NMSU Fire Chief Johnny Carrillo, “NMSU really does not have any part of the business operations.”

A special campus committee, which includes representatives from the NMSU fire and police departments as well as ASNMSU, is working to evaluate the program and will ultimately make a recommendation as to whether the program should continue past the 60-day trial. The committee has received a fair amount of feedback on the scooters.

According to Carillo, students have reacted positively to the scooters. “I can tell you a lot of the students are very excited, very happy to have them on campus.”

NMSU student Mikayla Porras is one student who has welcomed the scooters. “With me living on campus it can be tiring to walk to classes every day,” Porras said. “The scooters help me get around quicker and are easy to figure out.”

Carillo said most of the complaints are that the scooters have little to no battery power, or that there aren’t enough scooters on campus. Lopez mentioned a tendency for people to try out the scooters and not use them regularly. “A lot of people drive them once or twice and then never ride them again,” Lopez said.

Spin programs are located in 12 cities and on seven college campuses across the country. “We have been told by some universities looking at them, we should expect someone to die at some point,” Lopez said.

According to Carillo, no injuries have been reported to the fire department, but he knows of two injuries which required medical attention. Both Lopez and Carrillo emphasized the importance of riders following published safety tips.

These tips include wearing a helmet and stopping at all stop signs and traffic lights. Also, it’s important for riders to be mindful of their surroundings and to not use the scooters to do tricks.

“The message we need to send is these scooters are an alternative transportation method. They are not for doing donuts and wheelies,” Carrillo said.

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