Public Works Committee begins discussions on scooter regulations

Less than 24 hours after members of the Public Safety Committee voted to remove all Bird scooters from city sidewalks, members of City Council listened to recommendations from the city staff.

Public Works  Committee begins discussions on scooter regulations
November 29
00:30 2018

Less than 24 hours after members of the Public Safety Committee voted to remove all Bird scooters from city sidewalks, members of City Council listened to recommendations from the city staff and discussed ways to regulate use of the scooters and make them safer for riders and pedestrians.

The scooters first arrived on city streets in early September when Bird dropped 100 scooters in various locations across the city. In the short time they’ve been on the streets, dozens of citizens have voiced their frustration with the scooters saying they are unsafe and could cause serious injury. Although there is an ordinance in place that prohibits the use of the scooters on sidewalks, there isn’t any law that allows the scooters to be used in the streets, which is what Bird recommends for riders. The current ordinance also causes a lot of confusion for riders because they don’t know where they can ride the motorized scooters.

After the number of complaints continued to grow, on Monday, Nov. 19, the Public Safety Committee voted 3-1 to ban all Bird scooters until they can find a way to regulate use. The report, which was presented during the Public Works Committee meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 20, laid out a list of suggestions city officials could take if they decide to allow the scooters back on the streets in the future.

Suggestions presented to members of the committee addressed a number of issues including management options, basic safety requirements, parking and placement, customer service, equipment standards, fees, and location restrictions. 

Following the presentation made by Matthew Burczyk, Council members raised several questions and made suggestions about things they would like to see changed before the scooters return. Council Member James Taylor, who represents the Southeast Ward, raised concerns about the current age limit, which is 18 and what Bird requires in cities across the country.

Taylor, who is a co-owner of The Chronicle, asked if the age could be lowered to 16.

“… I certainly ask the committee to consider lowering the age and I guess if it stays at 18, what happens in the event if young people are pulled over. I work at 5th and MLK and there are so many young people using these scooters as modes of transportation, what happens if one of them gets pulled over? Does it go on their criminal record? Do they get a citation?” he asked. “That creates a whole new set of problems that we could address today, so that’s something that we should consider.

“… We do not need young people getting misdemeanors at age 16 that will affect them at age 40.”

Taylor also suggested setting limitations on where the scooters can be used. He said certain areas are much safer for scooters to be driven on sidewalks, because the roads would be extremely dangerous.

Council member John Larson, who has been vocal about his disapproval of Bird since they came into the city unannounced, asked about the stop time for the scooters, which is currently 9 p.m. Because the scooters are only equipped with small lights in the front and back and almost impossible to see at night, Larson said the cut-off time should be earlier.

“The idea of night driving with the lights that I’m seeing currently, I’m wondering why we’re setting 9 o’clock, which is a late dark time of day and why we’re not initially looking at these as day-light operating vehicles and avoid the whole issue of night issues with these things,” said Larson. “When we push it to 9 o’clock, I’m a little concerned about that, particularly this time of year as to what that might mean.”

Larson also suggested that the city create a document to present to companies on what they expect and a starting point for how they plan to move forward with the scooters.

Council Member Denise “DD” Adams wants an accurate count of scooters in the Winston-Salem area. Adams also requested a benchmark on cities our size to set a limit for the number of scooters allowed in the city at one time.

When discussing the matter and the possibility of the state setting regulations on the scooters in 2019, board chair, Council Member Dan Besse said he wants a default option for Council to consider in January, if the State Legislature has not made a decision by then on where the scooters can be driven.

He also said he prefers the city to require a permit application for all companies interested in bringing scooters or bikes to the area as opposed to Request for Proposals (RFP), which is a document that solicits proposal through a bidding process.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several Bird users, chargers, and mechanics discussed why they believe the scooters should be allowed here in Winston-Salem. Amy Easter, who is a member of the Winston-Salem Cycling Advocacy Network, said dockless technology such as the motorized scooters address a lot of the problems that our city currently faces, including affordable transportation access, parking demands, traffic demands, and pollution.

“This is not unlike the automobile; In the early 1900s when the automobile was introduced, it was hated by many. It was very dangerous due to lack of proper infrastructure, laws, education, and enforcement. While individuals and industries saw it as a really good tool that could be used, a lot of people literally called it evil and the people who use them reckless,” continued Easter. “… I see clear parallels between that history and what we’re experiencing today. People see bicycles and scooters as something that gets in the way and they perceive to be dangerous and I think they’re solutions to every problem.

“More and more people want that variety and I think we have to work together to be more friendly to multi-mode-transportation.”

While last week’s discussions were a good start to the conversation, no action was taken during the Public Works Committee meeting. The item will be brought up again in the December Public Works Committee meeting.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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