Wake County

Should scooters stay or should they go? It’s time to tell the Raleigh City Council

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

The electric-scooter company Bird would lose half of its Raleigh fleet under the city’s proposed city rules.

The rules would limit companies to 500 scooters each — Bird has about 1,100 across the city — and prohibit scooters from being parked in areas without sidewalks or where sidewalks are less than five feet wide, among other places.

The rules cap the number of scooters allowed in the city at 1,500, but that would allow a third company here. The proposed 500 and 1,500 limits are based on what other cities have done including Charlotte, which allows a maximum of 300 scooters per company.

City staffers are not recommending banning scooters — either forever or until the rules take effect — but those are among the options that Raleigh leaders will debate at a 1 p.m. Tuesday meeting.

Instead, staffers recommend letting Bird and Lime continue operating under whatever rules are passed through July 31, after which all companies would need to apply. Lime has about 200 scooters in Raleigh.

“City council will ultimately make the decision weighing benefits and liabilities to determine the value and place of dockless scooters in the overall transportation environment,” said Michael Moore, the city’s transportation director, in a memo.

Raleigh would also collect money from each company to offset the city’s costs. A permit would cost $290 with a $100 fee per scooter. The city would receive more than $100,000 if both Lime and Bird had the maximum number of scooters.

Some of the other proposed rules include:

  • Require scooters to have “no riding on sidewalks” physically displayed on the vehicles.

  • Require each company to provide a customer service phone number for complaints, safety concerns and questions. The customer service number for Bird is 1-866-205-2442, and the number for Lime is 888-546-3345.

  • Prohibit the scooters from being parked in areas that do not have sidewalks, near public benches, trash containers, driveways, crosswalks or bus stops. They also could not block sidewalks.

  • Remove the scooters by 10 p.m. for overnight charging and return them put them back no earlier than 7 a.m.

  • All riders be at least 18 years old. There’s no helmet requirement.

The memo also mentions putting 20 percent of the scooters in “underserved communities” that have yet to be determined by the city.

One big question is whether the vehicles should be treated like mopeds or bicycles.

The Raleigh City Attorney’s Office says state law “best categorized” scooters as mopeds but that the Division of Motor Vehicles has not enforced the rules. Mopeds require a helmet, registration, a permit and license. The city of Charlotte has categorized scooters as similar to bicycles.

“We believe people should have more access to affordable, environmentally friendly transportation options, not less,” said Mackenzie Long, a spokesperson for Bird. “We look forward to continue working closely with city officials to improve access to Bird, and we hope to help build a framework that can work for everyone.”

Efforts to reach Lime for comment were unsuccessful.

The arrival of the electric scooters this summer was instantly polarizing with some calling them a great, affordable way to travel while others worried about people riding on the sidewalks and causing tripping hazard for people. The companies didn’t seek the city’s blessing or cooperation in arriving in the area. The City Council gave the companies 60 days to follow their rules once they are created.

Riders can unlock the scooters for $1 using an app on their phones and pay 15 cents per each additional minute. Riders are told to wear helmets and stay off the sidewalks, but few do.

The Raleigh Police Department has responded to 16 scooter-related accidents, including one driver who fell after hitting a pothole in the street.

A scooter driver was hospitalized after a vehicle struck the scooter in the Hillsborough Street and Pullen Road roundabout on Sept. 5. On Aug. 29 a scooter driver turned off the sidewalk into a crosswalk on Fayetteville Street and was hit by a vehicle. Wake County EMS has been called 20 times.

David Jones, while trying to make a right turn onto Wake Forest Road, hit a scooter whose rider was crossing the street. The scooter driver wasn’t injured.

“I don’t think they should be banned,” he said. “It’s another mode of transportation that gives people more independence, and it’s more efficient than riding cars. People need to be careful and probably wear a helmet.”

He urged scooter drivers to be more aware of their surroundings.

Holly Eden normally roller skates to her downtown job, but started using scooters for some of her trips.

“If I can easily roller skate downtown without being a nuisance people should be able to be courteous on a scooter as well,” she said. “I can see why people are finding them so frustrating. And I think it’s sad that people are misusing them, which could involve them being taken away but also that their misuse would hurt themselves or someone else.”

A survey of people who live and work downtown supported scooters but also regulations.

The Rev. Robert Parrish, who is legally blind, doesn’t mind them in the streets.

“There are certain things we have learned to live with,” he said. “I can hear the bikes. But I’ve had a couple of near misses with the scooters. We need them off the sidewalks. It’s one of those things where they are here, but we shouldn’t have to deal with them.”

What’s next

What: Raleigh City Council meeting

When: 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16.

Where: Raleigh Municipal Building, 222 W. Hargett St., Raleigh

Additional Information: If you park in a municipal parking garage you can get a voucher for free parking to attend the meeting.

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