City Council may regulate Bird electric scooters

City Council may regulate Bird electric scooters
September 20
04:00 2018

The City Council wants to regulate Bird electric scooters that were placed on Winston-Salem sidewalks shortly before Labor Day.

Bird placed 100 electric scooters in small groups, or “nests,” on sidewalks around the city. Users can rent the scooters by using the Bird App, which is $1 to a start a ride and 20 cents a minute after that. After a few initial kicks, the scooter is motorized and goes up to 15 miles per hour. When a user is done with it, they can park it on a sidewalk at their destination and leave it. “Chargers” paid by the company come and pick the scooters up to recharge them and return them to their nests.

Unlike Zagster bicycles, which can also be rented using an app, there are no docks for the scooters, nor did Bird work with the city or even inform the city about putting them out. This did not sit well with City Council Member John Larson during a Public Works Committee meeting last week on Tuesday, Sept. 11, where Bird’s N.C. Community Relations Manager Kendal Miller appeared.

“Welcome to Winston-Salem, I suppose,” Larson said. “I would’ve liked to have given you an invitation to come.”

Larson found the way the company placed their scooters on city sidewalks without permission “a little abrasive” and “insulting.” He noted that the city could have had them all picked up as abandoned items, and proposed getting them off the street until the city figures out how to regulate them.

“I would welcome an alternate transportation method and I applaud some of the goals that this can achieve for the city,” he said. “What I find abhorrent is the way your company has abused, I think, the city by coming in and dumping stuff on our sidewalks, and I find that horribly regrettable and I would hope that we would find some mechanism through careful deliberation and working within the law that exists about how these things would operate, where they are to be placed, how they’re going to be stored.”

Other council members where OK with the scooters remaining on the streets as they figured things out. They were more understanding of the company’s tactic of putting its scooters out there and forcing city government to have conversations about it only after residents started using them.

“I don’t consider electric scooters to be an existential threat, and I’m not calling for the nuclear option,” said Council Member and Public Works Chair Dan Besse.

Regulating them may be a little complicated. City ordinances do prohibit them from being used on sidewalks. But there is no law or ordinance allowing them to be driven on streets, where they’re supposed to be operated. The state has a law to allow Segways on streets but not vehicles like scooters that have two tandem wheels. Miller said the company is working with the state to change that.

Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said “doing nothing is a terrible idea” and hoped they could find a way to regulate them that would generate revenue to cover the cost of enforcing ordinances and traffic laws on the scooters. He also requested information on their potential safety risks.

“That’s something that could sway my opinion on the validity of these, if we start seeing spikes in injuries,” he said.

The app says that users should bring their own helmets and wear them if they’re riding the scooters. As a precaution, new rides on the scooters cannot be started after 7 p.m., after which they are collected to be charged and put out again the next morning.  Bird removed them from the street for a time, starting last week, to avoid safety risks during Hurricane Florence.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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