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Electric Scooters Cleared To Run On Charlotte Streets

Charlotte City Council member tried out a scooter recently.
Courtesy of Tariq Bokhari

Electric rental scooters are now legal in Charlotte. Three companies have gotten city permits to begin deploying scooters around uptown beginning Monday - after one started without permission.

First, it was dockless rental bikes. Now, it's motorized two-wheeled scooters from Bird, Lime and Spin. They're appearing under a pilot program that's running parallel to the dockless bike trial already underway.  The formal launch comes after Lime put out its scooters a few weeks ago without a permit, said City Council member Tariq Bokhari.

"Those who have been following Scooter-gate in the news over the last week or so will recognize that we had a bit of a challenge with one of the companies jumping out and prematurely putting their scooters on the streets, while we were still working through the pilot permitting process," Bokhari said. 

The city ordered Lime to remove the scooters by May 11, which it did. Lime also asked users to email city officials, and Bokhari and other council members were flooded with complaints about the city's move. Lime apparently hoped to run the program without a permit.  

A spokeswomantold The Charlotte Observer last week it planned to "distribute scooters on private properties, not in the public right of way or obstructing any sidewalks."

The company also got into trouble in Honolulu, Hawaii, last week after it began deploying scooters there without city permission.

In an emailed, statement Monday afternoon, Lime said: "We filed for our permit today, and appreciate the City’s collaborative efforts in working to approve our application in a timely manner.  We expect to resume scooter operations by tomorrow morning, and look forward to serving the community of Charlotte with our scooters again."

Since last week, the city has written rules for a five-month trial. If a company like Lime also operates dockless bikes, it can deploy up to 100 scooters initially. Companies without bikes get up to 300.

The city will monitor the program and decide in October whether to tweak the permits.  Bokhari said the trial comes with incentives for good behavior.

"We're going to have kind of a race to the top, with three categories where each month we're going to measure them. One is ridership. One is the right of way, and how they're respecting that and using it. And the other is responsiveness to the community's concerns," Bokhari said. 

Companies that score best get an extra 100 scooters, he said.  

The scooters are part of efforts by the city to expand transportation options.

"Bike share certainly, but also the scooters to some extent for certain folks provide that last-mile, first-mile connectivity that might get someone from their house or their place of work to a light rail station or to a bus stop," city council member Larken Egleston said.

Just like rental bikes, you pay for the scooters with a smartphone app. They cost a dollar to unlock, plus a per-minute charge. For now, the city is treating scooters like bicycles — you can ride on roads or bike lanes.  When you're done, you park them at your destination, as long as they don't block the road or sidewalk.


City of Charlotte scooter information page, http://charlottenc.gov/

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.