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Council OKs Rules For E-Scooters, But Revisions Likely

Scooters on North Tryon Street  uptown in December 2018.
David Boraks
Scooters on North Tryon Street uptown in December 2018.

Charlotte City Council members approved new rules for electric scooters Monday, but only after a long debate that several members say shows a need to revisit the rules later.

The new rules have been months in the making. They're the council's first attempt to address the safety of electric scooters, which have been on city streets only since May. Among other things, the ordinance caps scooter speeds at 15 miles an hour, prohibits more than one person on a scooter and bans them from sidewalks in the central part of uptown.

Mayor Pro-Tem Julie Eiselt, who chairs the council's transportation committee, said Charlotte is helping to chart new ground for local regulation nationally.

"We've had a lot of conversations around scooters over the past few months, a new technology that's been very disruptive but very popular," she said. 

File photo of City Council member Braxton Winston, January 14, 2019.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Council member Braxton Winston discussed new scooter rules at Monday's meeting.

So popular that users took more than 100,000 scooter trips a month in Charlotte this fall.

But safety has been an issue. Some city council members have cited scooter wrecks and injuries as an argument for safety rules. And some residents have complained about scooters taking over city sidewalks.

The vote was 7-3, with council members Braxton Winston, LaWana Mayfield and Matt Newton opposed. Winston, a supporter of scooters, thinks the 15 mile an hour speed limit - alongside faster moving traffic - is too low and possibly unsafe.

"This is the first round of this technology, and by putting this cap, we actually are regulating the potential of creating a safer, more durable product," Winston said. 

Two items discussed previously were not in the version approved last night: banning scooters from streets with speed limits over 35 miles per hour and a requirement that scooter companies put at least 20 percent of their scooters in areas described as "disadvantaged "

Three companies - Lime, Bird and Spin - now operate scooters here. Riders pay using a mobile phone app. City officials have promoted scooters as an option for what they call "the last mile" to and from public transportation.

City council member Greg Phipps said before the vote he's sure the city will have to revisit the rules as the technology evolves, and if the General Assembly decides to adopt a statewide scooter law.

A statement from scooter company Lime welcomed the new rules: 

“We are pleased with a number of provisions included in tonight’s ordinance that passed Charlotte City Council, and we are proud to provide affordable, accessible transportation to people across the city. We are continuing to review and evaluate certain provisions and will provide additional comment as we are able.

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.