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Hey, Raleigh: Don’t regulate the scooters out of existence

Electric Bird scooters have arrived in downtown Raleigh, Cameron Village and Oberlin

Deas Fenderson of Bird scooters gives a quick tutorial on how to use the dockless, electric scooters in downtown Raleigh
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Deas Fenderson of Bird scooters gives a quick tutorial on how to use the dockless, electric scooters in downtown Raleigh

My first ride on one of the electric scooters began at the site of Marie Antoinette’s execution. Riding over the cobblestones of the Place de la Concorde in Paris was a nightmare. Once I escaped onto more sensible pavement, the scooter proved to be the perfect way to explore the ancient city. I love the freedom and flexibility the scooters offer, not to mention the economic and environmental benefits.

But we might lose access to them in Raleigh. This week, the Raleigh City Council agreed on regulations for scooters that might force Bird and Lime to withdraw their fleets. Among other things, the council wants to charge the companies an annual fee ($300 per scooter this year) and cap the total number allowed in the city at 500 per company. The council previously had raised the per scooter fee from $100 to $150. Most cities charge $25 to $100.

“The City Council’s regressive proposal on e-scooters is deeply concerning given the climate crisis and our addiction to cars. Bird is currently determining whether we can viably continue to provide Birds to the people of Raleigh,” a Bird spokesperson said. Lime could not be reached for comment.

Some council members are frustrated by the scooters. I don’t want the scooters on the sidewalks either, but the council members are directing much of their frustration with irresponsible riders toward the distributors.

Bird and Lime tell riders to wear helmets and to ride the scooters in the streets. It’s the scooter users who ignore the rules, and it’s the scooter users who should be ticketed or fined. Consistent enforcement likely would pay for itself, and we could follow the example of cities like Indianapolis and use any surplus revenue to pay for other transportation initiatives.

According to data provided by the Raleigh Police Department, 24 incidents involving electric scooters have been reported since July. For the same time period, there were 32 incidents involving bicycles (called agents of the devil when they first hit city streets) and 7,481 incidents involving cars.

Kristin Kelly at WakeMed said that they have seen an increase in scooter-related injuries. From April 20 to Oct. 20, “WakeMed Emergency Departments treated an estimated 180 scooter-related injuries,” Kelly said, compared to 102 scooter-related incidents in the six months before Lime and Bird descended.

It’s not possible to say exactly which injuries are related to which scooters, as WakeMed records don’t differentiate between children’s “toy scooters” and “motorized transportation scooters.” Kelly did highlight one spike in the numbers. In the six months before the scooters showed up, there were six scooter-related incidents involving someone 18 to 35 years old. There have been 56 incidents in that age range since April 2018. That is too many injuries, but it’s certainly not a flood of ER visits.

There are 1,300 Bird scooters and 250 Lime scooters in Raleigh. If each scooter is only used once a day, which seems very low, it’s still a small fraction of scooter rides that end up involving the police or the ER.

The council proposes to keep scooters available to “communities of concern,” and I applaud a plan “to reduce barriers to low-income” users. But these scooters are already one of the most flexible and affordable ways to get around this city; fewer scooters will make them harder to use for everyone.

One great way to help low-income people? Allow more scooters. Bird spokesperson Mackenzie Long said that the company has already paid Raleigh residents over $1 million to charge and repair scooters.

The scooters are frustrating to many, especially since we didn’t know they were coming. But the benefits so far outweigh the dangers and the annoyances. To the Raleigh City Council: Don’t cripple the scooters because of a few stupid users. And to my fellow scooter lovers: Don’t be stupid when you ride them.