Bird Talk: Public Safety Committee begins discussion to regulate scooters

City officials have begun talks on how to regulate the use of Bird Scooters.

Bird Talk: Public Safety Committee begins discussion to regulate scooters
January 31
05:00 2019

Earlier this month city officials began discussions on how to regulate use for the scooters that landed on street corners around the city last fall.

Shortly after Labor Day, Bird, an electric scooter rental service based in California, with the mission to make cities more livable by reducing car usage and congestion, left more than 100 scooters in various locations across Winston-Salem. Less than three months after the scooters arrived, during a public meeting in November, the Public Safety Committee voted 3-1 to remove all Bird scooters from public sidewalks until they come up with a method to regulate use, citing safety concerns for pedestrians and those riding the scooters.

According to members of the Winston-Salem Police Department, there were at least three accidents in the downtown area caused by someone riding a scooter. Cpl. J.A. Henry, who works in the downtown area, said when the scooters were most active they received at least two calls a day from people complaining about the scooters.

Despite concerns from the WSPD and City Council about where the scooters should be allowed, proper lighting,  and an age limit, several members of the community let it be known that they wanted the scooters to stay. Many attended city council meetings to make sure their voices were heard.

Before the motion was made to remove the scooters, City Council Member James Taylor, chairman of the Public Safety Committee and publisher of The Chronicle, said it was important that they find a balance where everyone in the community is happy.

Assistant City Manager Damon Dequenne said the city’s attorney’s office has worked diligently to create a draft ordinance for review. He said since the scooters made their appearance, the city attorney’s office has worked diligently with the Department of Transportation to come up with a reasonable solution to the issues with the scooters.

“…There’s been copious amounts of research done,” Dequenne said.

During the Public Safety Committee meeting on Jan. 14, the city attorney’s office presented an 18-page draft ordinance to regulate use of electric scooters, dockless bicycles, and other types of shared transportation vehicles. Although not yet finalized, the ordinance includes several new regulations, including a valid operating permit for the company that owns the scooter, a helmet requirement, the development of a micro-mobility selection committee, an age limit, and civil penalties if traffic laws aren’t followed, just to name a few.

Assistant City Attorney Marilena Guthold said the ordinance is a combination of similar ordinances from cities like Santa Monica, the home of Bird Scooter, Durham, Greensboro, and Raleigh.

After a brief overview of the ordinance, members of the Public Safety Committee had the opportunity to ask questions and make suggested changes to the ordinance. Chairman Taylor suggested lowering the age limit from 18 to 15 or 16.

“… I think if at 15 or 16 our young men and women can operate vehicles, it would be reasonable to believe they can operate a scooter,” said Taylor. “But other than that, I think we have a good plan.”

Council Member John Larson said he needed more time to look over the ordinance. He then raised questions about enforcement, cost, and the possibility implementing a daytime operation-only rule.

“How is this being staffed, because I see enforcement issues coming into play very quickly. I also see a lot of legal review initially for the first couple of years until we can train these operators,” said Larson. “So I’m trying to understand the cost to the city and how we plan to recover those costs. Before I approve anything that’s going to be on city streets, I want to know how we’re going to pay for it.” 

Council Members D.D. Adams, Annette Scippio, Jeff MacIntosh and Dan Besse also made suggested changes to the ordinance. In the end, Chairman Taylor suggested that staff go back and take a look at the many suggestions made by the committee.

Although he didn’t provide a timetable on when the committee would discuss the ordinance again, Taylor said he expects to have the scooters back on the streets soon.

“I think we have provided many details for staff to go back and look at. But as it’s presented, they have already put in a lot of hard work and we appreciate that and we look forward to when it comes back to committee.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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