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In a recent memo, the advocacy organizations Calbike, Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and TransForm joined forces to oppose AB 371.The bill would force bikeshare and e-scooter providers to extend insurance coverage to their customers, which the organizations argue could have a chilling effect on micromobility.
Titling it “AB 371 continues the assault on affordable and sustainable bike share and scooter programs in California,” they state the bill, which is in the state Senate, could kill shared bike and e-scooter systems. The bill would reportedly require nonprofits, government agencies, and private companies that operate bike share and e-scooter systems to extend their liability coverage to the sole negligence or reckless behavior of a rider.
For example, currently, all e-scooter users are required to sign a user agreement, which can be used to determine liability in case of an accident. These agreements are legally binding between a rider and the e-scooter company. And if a rider breaks even a single provision in the signed user agreement, they can be blamed by the e-scooter company for any injuries sustained as a result of an accident.
The loophole in the terms of agreements can cause a nightmare in the case of an e-scooter accident. Since electric scooter companies don’t insure their riders, and riders of these vehicles can’t depend on homeowner insurance because it’s not their property, e-scooter riders are completely uninsured. That’s why the companies have come under fire in the past.
Despite this, the organizations claim this would set a legal precedent that no other industry is subject to. “Just like a rental car company cannot be held liable for the reckless actions of their drivers (Graves Amendment), neither should shared bike and scooter operators,” the memo reads. “Further, the proposed form of insurance would be highly susceptible to fraud due to the low cost and ease of staging accidents, with minimal burden of proof.”
In the memo, the organizations noted that California already has some of the highest insurance limits for micromobility programs and operator’s existing insurance already covers up to $1 million in liability for third party bodily injury and property damage. They compare the minimum insurance requirements for personal automobiles, which is $15,000 per person or $30,000 per accident.
They claim insurers wrote to the legislature to inform them that they had no intent to create such a product and, because if they did, it would be costly for the operators. “Forcing bikeshare providers and other micromobility companies to shoulder this unprecedented level of liability will make it financially impossible for them to continue operations, eliminating an essential element of a city’s transportation system,” they noted, adding that cities like Santa Monica have are also opposing this bill.
The bill would also apply to nonprofits and government agencies that just got funded to operate bike share systems with some of the $20 million in Clean Mobility Options grants. “The Air Resources Board clearly understands the potential of these systems; the legislature should also, and abandon this attempt to impose a fatally impractical requirement,” the organizations argued.
The coalition noted that the rise in popularity of biking and an expansion of shared bike systems will help push our society further, but that this bill’s insurance provisions will halt that progress. “It is an unnecessary regulatory measure that reduces access to sustainable, healthy and equitable modes of transportation, especially for communities of color who have suffered disinvestment in transportation options for decades,” they added.
To conclude the memo, they stated: “The legislature should do its part in supporting bike and scooter programs, which replace tens of millions of car trips and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rather than saddle cities’ micromobility programs with an onerous array of costs that will ultimately impact our most vulnerable communities the most.”
In order for the U.S. to meet its climate goals people must drive less altogether. Despite meteoric drops in vehicle miles travelled because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, transportation-related emissions were still the country’s single biggest driver of climate change in 2020. Moreover, according to the “State of the Air 2021” report recently released, the five-county Los Angeles region ranks as the metro area with the highest smog levels in the country — mostly because of motor vehicle traffic. It is believed that bikeshare and e-scooters can help alleviate environmental problems associated with transportation.