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Scooters Here To Stay, But City Waits For State To Adopt Safety Rules

Scooters parked outside the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
David Boraks
Scooters parked outside the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018
Charlotte's electric scooter pilot program is now over, and it looks like scooters are here to stay. For now, city staff are not recommending any new local safety rules.  Instead, they'll start a scooter safety campaign in the coming weeks. 

Some city council members have been pushing for safety rules after reports of accidents and unsafe scooter use, but city transportation officials want to hold off on new rules while the General Assembly considers statewide legislation.

"We know there's going to be legislation," City Attorney Bob Hagemann told the council's transportation committee Monday. "Rather than us trying to figure out what's our permanent solution — which may or may not square with what comes out of the legislature — we think we should have a seat at that table, keep doing what we've been doing for a couple more months and see how that process works out at the state level."

Hagemann said lawmakers are expected to take up a bill in 2019 that would clarify how e-scooters should be treated under state law — as vehicles, bicycles or something else. Right now, legal experts say they qualify as vehicles and should be subject to all the same rules as cars and trucks, including license plates and motor vehicle registration fees.   

City council members also want to talk about the city's permitting process, including whether to limit the number of scooters on city streets and how much to charge operators for each scooter. Vendors currently pay no fee in Charlotte.  

Council member Tariq Bokhari wants to let the market decide how many scooters is the right number. Vendors Lime and Bird currently have 800 scooters in the city. 

Council member Braxton Winston also supports scooters. He's pushing for a program that enables not only rental scooters, but those people buy themselves. 

"I would really like us to go a step further and be the ones to envision how to really put this type of transportation choice as something that is here, and will be here into the future," Winston said.

The city's e-scooter pilot program had been scheduled to end Nov. 1. But it ended early when Mayor Vi Lyles asked the transportation committee to study new rules, a Charlotte DOT spokeswoman said Monday.

For now, operators Lime and Bird are operating month to month under the same contracts they've had since last May, when e-scooters first appeared on city streets.

The discussion over the permitting process is expected to continue when the transportation committee meets again in late November, or at a special meeting to be called sooner, said committee chair Greg Phipps. 

Scooters have become very popular in just a short time — more popular than dockless rental bikes. In August, users took 140,000 rides on them, averaging 1.4 miles per trip, according to Charlotte DOT. The number of rides fell in September to about 120,000, partly due to weather.  

Charlotte DOT staff said they're planning a campaign to promote scooter safety later this month and in November. 


Charlotte DOT web page for the E-Scooter Share Program, 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.