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Confusion Surrounds Controversial Electric Scooters In Denver

By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) - In May, electric scooters for rent through smartphone apps suddenly appeared on Denver streets. The city pulled them off and fined the companies nearly $40,000.

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Then in July, the city allowed them to return after the companies agreed to pay for permits and abide by a list of rules. CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger found those rules are repeatedly being violated.

Rule number one ... No riding in bike lanes.

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So we wondered: Why are there so many scooters in those lanes?

"Did you know you are not supposed to be in the bike lane?" One rider was asked.

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CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews a man on a scooter. (credit: CBS)

"Okay, I didn't read that rule," he replied.

CBS4 found quite a few people weren't aware of that rule.

Another rider in a bike lane said he thought the bike lane is where he needed to be.

"I think it (the app) says you are supposed to."

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He's right. The Lime app vaguely states, "Do not ride on sidewalks other than permitted by law. Use the bike lanes when available and permitted by law."

Bird has its app tailored to Denver's specific rules. In fact, sidewalks are exactly where you are supposed to ride in Denver.

Heather Burke, a spokesperson for the Denver Department of Public Works, says there is a steep learning curve and the scooter companies must inform the riders.

"It's a revocable permit, and it's in the operator's best interest to educate riders," she said. She added they are already discussing possible changes to the existing laws regarding use of the scooters.

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Another rule says no riding on the streets, but it didn't take long for us to find plenty of people violating that rule throughout the downtown area.

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The scooters are to be left at bus and other transit stops. But CBS4 found them just about everywhere. They were on street corners, sidewalks and wherever they happened to run out of their electric charge.

Burke says there will soon be corrals at the stops for the scooters to be left.

The city has been emphatic that there's absolutely no scooter riding on the 16th Street Mall.

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How carefully is that obeyed? CBS4 found one rider after another with the rental scooters on the mall. In some cases the riders were slowing down mall buses and had to get out of the way.

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A group of riders on the mall was asked, "Did you know you're not supposed to riding on the 16th Street Mall?"

"Didn't know that," was the reply.

A spokesperson from Bird issued this statement:

Safety is our top priority and we are committed to partnering with the city of Denver to ensure that the community safely embraces our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option. We strive to enhance the safety of Bird riders in Denver by taking concrete steps including: restricting the speed of our scooters to a 15 mph maximum, requiring riders to upload a driver's license and confirm they are 18 or older, and providing an in-app tutorial on how to ride a Bird and how to park it. In addition, we were the first in the industry to offer free helmets to our riders. To date we have distributed nearly 40,000 free helmets to Bird riders.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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