Greensboro legalizes e-scooters
On Nov. 20, the Greensboro City Council voted to allow “stand-up electronic scooters” on streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. But don’t go looking for one just yet.
Until permits are issued, Greensboro remains as described in my Nov. 5 article “Bye, bye Birdie,” with both Bird and Lime scooters prohibited on all public streets and sidewalks. That’s also the situation in Winston-Salem, where on Monday night the city’s public safety committee voted 3-1 in favor of a similar ban.
The revisions to chapter 16 of the Greensboro code of ordinances allow “standup electronic scooters” in bike lanes and on public streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, but prohibit them on all sidewalks and parking decks. They also make it unlawful to operate a scooter-share rental program “without first obtaining a permit from the Director of Transportation and paying the proper fees.”
Chris Spencer, engineering division manager of the Greensboro department of transportation, described a pilot program that would set the permit fee at $500 plus $50 per scooter, while requiring local operations, a 24-hour customer service contact number and the reporting of usage and crash data to the city.
Spencer said that his department expects “to issue permits for 2-3 operators” (meaning companies renting the scooters, so potentially, Bird, Lime and one other) and that each permitted operator would be required to maintain a minimum of 50 scooters and a maximum of 200 (before they were removed following the city attorney’s directive of Nov. 2, Bird maintained 450 scooters in Greensboro and Lime maintained 130).
Applications for participation in the Pilot Standup Electric Scooter Share Program will be accepted through Dec. 14, and should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The revised ordinance, the scooter share permit requirements, and a draft of a sample permit can be found at this city of Greensboro link.
The motion-based unanimously, but not without vigorous discussion.
District 1’s Sharon Hightower and Mayor Nancy Vaughan expressed concerns about scooter visibility after dark. As described by Spencer, permit requirements state that scooters cannot be operated between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Vaughan pointed out that night fell at different times during the year and noted that the dark coloring of Bird scooters makes them potentially more dangerous than Lime ones.
At-large representative Marikay Abuzuaiter criticized Bird for introducing their scooters to Greensboro streets without requesting permission. She also stressed public safety concerns. “I know people who’ve had wrecks and been too embarrassed to report them. We’ve all heard of, or seen on social media, people racing down this street or going the wrong way down that street.” She stressed the need for insurance and accountability and dismissed the allegedly computer-generated pro-Bird emails she said the city council had been receiving.
District 5’s Tammi Thurm was more positive, saying “obviously the people have spoken” and (referring to Spencers’s statistic that, in Greensboro, 4,018 “unique riders” had used Lime scooters and 7,800 had used Bird) “the number speaks for itself.” She said that, like Abuzuaiter, she had problems with Bird’s business model and lack of communication and with the identical mass emails the city council received. But calling the scooters “the future,” she said, “I think we need to learn to live with them and embrace them.”
Servando Esparza, Bird’s senior manager of government partnerships, who’d come from Austin, Texas, to address the city council, thanked them and city staff for the work they’d done to craft the operations and regulations. He stressed that his company’s scooters are transportation devices, “not toys,” and cited Greensboro students as choosing Bird “because they know the challenges of parking.”
He said that “as someone who does government partnerships,” the Bird business model “is not my idea of how I would introduce myself to you guys.” But he speculated that, if Bird had come to the city council without introducing their product to Greensboro’s citizens first, and said “that people are going to love it and use it,” he might have been greeted with laughter and skepticism. “It is sometimes necessary to prove that the concept will actually work.”
Addressing safety concerns, he described the “two weeks of safety programs” that Bird had recently conducted in Charlotte. He also addressed concerns about Bird scooters blocking sidewalks by stating that Bird was rolling out a “community mode” on its app, which will allow subscribers to report improperly parked Birds, with violators potentially “being banned from the service.” He also said that the company was introducing larger lights and more reflective materials to its scooters in the very near future.
Abuzuaiter took exception to his supposition that the city might not have allowed the scooters if they’d not already been introduced, citing the example of their competitor. “Surely you knew that we already had an agreement in place with Lime.” She suggested that, when dealing with other cities in the future, Bird should follow Lime’s practice of negotiating an agreement first, citing the recent examples of Bird scooters being removed from Asheville and Winston-Salem “because there was no agreement in place.” But she stated that she would vote for the ordinance.
District 3’s Justin Outling expressed sympathy for Bird, saying that, as an attorney, he’d sometimes had to “work with some bad facts” and had received “a public flogging” for it. He then went on to state that the ordinance was not about Bird, but “about regulating a newly emerging mode of transportation,” which he compared to the introduction of the automobile.
Outling objected to the proposed permitting regulation that would limit the hours in which scooters could be used, saying “I don’t think that’s workable” and “I don’t see a rationale for treating electronic scooters differently from other modes of transportation,” such as bicycles.
Matt Phillips, Lime’s Greensboro operations and logistics manager, briefly addressed the city council and received a much warmer reception than his competitor, particularly after saying that Greensboro had been his company’s very first market. “We feel we have been good community partners from the very beginning; we have our business license, we have our team on the ground that operates every single day, and we have worked very hard from day one to make sure we do not put a burden on the city.” Both Outling and Vaughan praised the way Lime had worked with the city.
Outling then proposed that the city adopt the ordinance, “but first strike the provision [mandating] when electric scooters can be operated.” He then motioned to interim city attorney Jim Hoffman and suggested that “maybe [the removal of that requirement] doesn’t have to be done by the city council, since that is part of the permit process, not the ordinance.”
“So,” Vaughan asked, “adopt the ordinance as is, with direction on the permit?” Outling agreed, and the ordinance was passed. Vaughan concluded the discussion on the issue by saying that she suspected Winston-Salem would be paying close attention to Greensboro’s example.