Charlottesville officials have different views on the specifics, but have agreed on a general framework for regulations on electric scooter ride-booking.
The City Council conducted a first reading of a proposed ordinance regulating the services, which include both e-scooters and e-bikes, as well as a program for companies to receive permits for an e-bike or e-scooter operation during its meeting on Monday.
The ordinance would prohibit scooters from riding on sidewalks or the Downtown Mall, specify where they can be parked, set speed limits and prohibit riding with headphones.
The two-wheeled services have befuddled local lawmakers throughout the country in recent years as localities try to deal with the new technology.
The General Assembly, in an effort to work with companies and encourage governments to weigh in, passed a law this year requiring municipalities to create regulations by Jan. 1. If no regulations are made by the deadline, the companies would be allowed operate free from local ordinances.
Councilor Heather Hill said it’s important to get regulations on the books before the state deadline, but that the rules are not set in stone after that point.
“At this point we are setting this ordinance, but we will have the flexibility to revise it,” she said.
Under the new state law, scooters could be introduced or used in Albemarle County under loose state regulations starting in the new year if the county, which currently does not have any local ordinances on the books, does not take specific action to curb them.
The service allows riders pay a fee to check out the scooters through an app on their phone and then leave them for the next person to pick up. In the city, 30,000 users have made more than 200,000 trips for a total of 200,000 miles in the past year.
California-based Lime and Bird brought 100 scooters each to the city at the start of 2019, plus 40 electric Lime bikes.
Bird pulled out of the area in June, about the same time that the council voted to extend the pilot program through the end of the year. Lime has removed its bikes, but the scooters remain.
The city has received inquiries from Spin, Gotcha, Jump and VeoRide, according to the staff report, and approved 150 scooters and e-bikes for VeoRide earlier this month.
City Council approved a pilot program in November 2018 to establish rules for e-bike and scooter services and determine if the city would continue to allow them.
Under the new state law, however, city staff decided to look for the most effective way to regulate the services, rather than decide whether to allow or ban them.
Councilors went back-and-forth over whether the scooters should be banned from sidewalks in all cases.
“It seems too absolute to prohibit them on sidewalks,” said Councilor Mike Signer. “The bike lanes here are not very safe anyway. It seems to me like a scooter could be exposed in more ways than a bike.”
Mayor Nikuyah Walker was open to scooters on sidewalks and their use on the Downtown Mall.
Signer made a motion for the ordinance to allow scooters on the sidewalks in areas without a bike lane, but it was not seconded.
The ordinance would set a $50 fine for parking and riding violations.
Walker wanted to revisit the fine for violating the regulations. She posited that companies could be more responsible for not conveying the rules and fines could add up for low-income residents using the service.
Amanda Poncy, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said the fee amount is governed by state law.
“I think enforcement is critical,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin. “I think there has to be a penalty for breaking these rules.”
If the regulations pass a second reading in December, money from the permitting program would be used to hire a full-time staff member, who would monitor compliance and work with the University of Virginia and Albemarle County.
The permit fees are expected to bring in about $72,000 by year’s end.
Despite the program’s rules curbing travel on the sidewalk or Downtown Mall, scooter traffic in those places remains an issue.
A spring study found that about 30% of users ride on the sidewalk and some scooters travel on the Downtown Mall.
Jason Ness, the city’s business development manager, said the scooters have generated about 220 complaints from about 90 people. Walker said “that didn’t seem like a lot.”
“Most of them have just been people not liking scooters,” Ness said. “I think the vast majority [of complaints] are people who just don’t like seeing them.”