The Greensboro City Council sounded like a bunch of old fuddy-duddies when discussing the electric scooter issue in Greensboro on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the work session in the Plaza Level Conference Room.
Overall the City Council isn’t sure what to do about the electric scooters that suddenly appeared on the streets and sidewalks of Greensboro, so the council went to its default position, which is to do nothing.
Currently, operating the electric scooters on the streets or sidewalks in the central business district is illegal, but the law – much like the laws against jaywalking, riding a skateboard or not using your turn signals – are not enforced.
The city staff proposed regulating the companies that are currently running ride share programs for the electric scooters, Bird and LimeBike, but councilmembers found all sorts of potential problems with having electric scooters downtown or anywhere.
The fact that the scooters are already here didn’t hurry the City Council into making a decision. It was unfortunate that Councilmember Justin Outling was not at the meeting, because he is constantly pushing his fellow councilmembers to make a decision.
One of the big complaints voiced by several councilmembers was that the people riding the scooters didn’t obey the traffic laws and frequently made unsafe movements. If this is the standard for the downtown, you can expect cars, bikes, skateboards and pedestrians all to be banned, and that would in fact make the downtown far safer.
Drivers in cars and people walking and riding bikes make unsafe and illegal movements all the time and that doesn’t seem to bother the City Council. In fact, at one parking deck on North Greene Street, cars leaving the deck every day go the wrong way on Greene Street and the city evidently has no problem with that because there has never been an effort to enforce that particular ordinance downtown.
People on LimeBike bicycles, a program the City Council whole-heartedly supports, rarely wear helmets and that’s acceptable, but for people to ride electric scooters without helmets and ignore the traffic laws that other people in other modes of transportation ignore all the time apparently creates a unacceptable safety hazard.
Some people don’t like anything new and some don’t like to see other people having fun. We have both types on the City Council.
The city staff tried to convince the councilmembers that the city should regulate the companies that owned the electric scooters and not try to regulate the riders more than those using other modes of transportation, but that didn’t get any traction.
The staff had a reasonable suggestion to treat the electric scooters much like bicycles because the speed of 15 to 20 mph was much the same range as bicycles. The scooters would not be allowed on the sidewalks in the central business district but would be allowed on the streets and in bike lanes.
Most of regulations proposed by the staff had to do with the companies that own and operate the electric scooters. Currently there are two, Bird downtown and LimeBike has a pilot program at UNCG. The city approved the pilot program at UNCG but knew nothing about Bird until the scooters appeared on the streets, which really rankled some councilmembers.
Councilmember Goldie Wells said about Bird that they “were just squatting or whatever” and said that the city should make the person who owned Bird pay some money. She said that she had seen the people from the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) riding around downtown on the Bird scooters.
City Councilmember Michelle Kennedy, the IRC executive director, complained that about 25 of the Bird scooters had been dropped off in the IRC parking lot and she didn’t think they should be allowed to dump a bunch of scooters on private property.
It was pointed out that this was the kind of thing that could be regulated but there are no regulations regarding a scooter ride share program.
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter said, “I have an issue with people plopping something down in the City of Greensboro. Most people are just joyriding on them.” She suggested some kind of penalty on the company for not coming to the city first.
Abuzuaiter also said, “I’m not sure why we are allowing them to be here at all.”
Chris Spencer from the Greensboro Department of Transportation (GDOT) said that the city couldn’t charge anything because the city didn’t have any ordinance regulating electric scooters.
Councilmember Sharon Hightower, who is never shy with her opinions, said, “I don’t think they’re safe.”
Several councilmembers said that riders should be required to wear helmets even though LimeBike bicycle riders are not required to wear helmets. But Councilmember Tammi Thurm said, “I can’t imagine users wanting to wear somebody else’s helmet.”
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said, “My biggest fear is an accident. I do think these are an accident waiting to happen.”
So far the electric scooters have traveled nearly 50,000 miles in Greensboro and no accidents have been reported. However, there is going to be an accident. Cars run into people on bicycles and pedestrians; there is no reason to think that a car is not going to run into an electric scooter or an electric scooter is not going to run into a pedestrian or a bicyclist.
City Manager David Parrish said, “My caution would be that we do something one way or another.” He said that if the companies were regulated and didn’t follow those regulations then the city could start to remove them.
Vaughan ended the discussion saying, “I’d like to see us find a way to permit it because they are cool and we are trying to attract young people.”
But the City Council went to its default position, which is to do nothing and wait to see what other cities do.
GDOT Director Adam Fischer said the proposed Greensboro ordinance was largely based on Charlotte’s ordinance, but Raleigh and Durham had not made a decision yet on how to regulate this new form of transportation.
Spencer told the City Council that the electric scooter ride share program had only been around for six to nine months, so nobody had much experience with them.
Since the City Council only meets once a month, the electric scooters have at least until Nov. 20 to continue to operate without any regulations or fees, which is pretty sweet deal and one that a lot of other businesses in Greensboro would like to enjoy.
It seems it does pay to show up, start the operation and worry about regulations later because Bird is going to get at least a couple of months unregulated. Considering the speed this City Council moves on issues, next year at this time the City Council could have a similar discussion about how they really needed to do something about those electric scooters.
Currently the fee to unlock a Bird scooter is $1 and the charge is 20 cents a minute after that. You have to photograph your driver’s license with your smart phone and provide a credit card number in order to get in the system.
The LimeBike scooters, which are at UNCG, are the same but the fee is 15 cents a minute.