Hey, Raleigh: Don’t reg­u­late scoot­ers out of ex­is­tence

The Herald Sun - - Opinion - BY SHELBI POLK spolk@new­sob­server.com

My first ride on one of the elec­tric scoot­ers be­gan at the site of Marie An­toinette’s ex­e­cu­tion. Rid­ing over the cob­ble­stones of the Place de la Con­corde in Paris was a night­mare. Once I es­caped onto more sen­si­ble pave­ment, the scooter proved to be the per­fect way to ex­plore the an­cient city. I love the free­dom and flex­i­bil­ity the scoot­ers of­fer, not to men­tion the eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits.

But we might lose ac­cess to them in Raleigh. This week, the Raleigh City Coun­cil agreed on reg­u­la­tions for scoot­ers that might force Bird and Lime to with­draw their fleets. Among other things, the coun­cil wants to charge the com­pa­nies an an­nual fee ($300 per scooter this year) and cap the to­tal num­ber al­lowed in the city at 500 per com­pany. The coun­cil pre­vi­ously had raised the per scooter fee from $100 to $150. Most cities charge $25 to $100.

“The City Coun­cil’s re­gres­sive pro­posal on e-scoot­ers is deeply con­cern­ing given the cli­mate cri­sis and our ad­dic­tion to cars. Bird is cur­rently de­ter­min­ing whether we can vi­ably con­tinue to pro­vide Birds to the peo­ple of Raleigh,” a Bird spokesper­son said. Lime could not be reached for com­ment.

Some coun­cil mem­bers are frus­trated by the scoot­ers. I don’t want the scoot­ers on the side­walks ei­ther, but the coun­cil mem­bers are di­rect­ing much of their frus­tra­tion with ir­re­spon­si­ble rid­ers to­ward the dis­trib­u­tors.

Bird and Lime tell rid­ers to wear hel­mets and to ride the scoot­ers in the streets. It’s the scooter users who ig­nore the rules, and it’s the scooter users who should be tick­eted or fined. Con­sis­tent en­force­ment likely would pay for it­self, and we could fol­low the ex­am­ple of cities like In­di­anapo­lis and use any sur­plus rev­enue to pay for other trans­porta­tion ini­tia­tives.

Ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided by the Raleigh Po­lice De­part­ment, 24 in­ci­dents in­volv­ing elec­tric scoot­ers have been re­ported since July. For the same time pe­riod, there were 32 in­ci­dents in­volv­ing bi­cy­cles (called agents of the devil when they first hit city streets) and 7,481 in­ci­dents in­volv­ing cars.

Kristin Kelly at Wake-Med said that they have seen an in­crease in scooter-re­lated in­juries. From April 20 to Oct. 20, “Wake Med Emer­gency De­part­ments treated an es­ti­mated 180 scooter re­lated in­juries,” Kelly said, com­pared to 102 scooter-re­lated in­ci­dents in the six months be­fore Lime and Bird de­scended.

It’s not pos­si­ble to say ex­actly which in­juries are re­lated to which scoot­ers, as Wake Med records don’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween chil­dren’s “toy scoot­ers” and “mo­tor­ized trans­porta­tion scoot­ers.” Kelly did high­light one spike in the num­bers. In the six months be­fore the scoot­ers showed up, there were six scooter-re­lated in­ci­dents in­volv­ing some­one 18 to 35 years old. There have been 56 in­ci­dents in that age range since April 2018. That is too many in­juries, but it’s cer­tainly not a flood of ER vis­its.

There are 1,300 Bird scoot­ers and 250 Lime scoot­ers in Raleigh. If each scooter is only used once a day, which seems very low, it’s still a small frac­tion of scooter rides that end up in­volv­ing the po­lice or the ER.

The coun­cil pro­poses to keep scoot­ers avail­able to “com­mu­ni­ties of con­cern,” and I ap­plaud a plan “to re­duce bar­ri­ers to low-in­come” users. But th­ese scoot­ers are al­ready one of the most flex­i­ble and af­ford­able ways to get around this city; fewer scoot­ers will make them harder to use for ev­ery­one.

One great way to help low-in­come peo­ple? Al­low more scoot­ers. Bird spokesper­son Macken­zie Long said that the com­pany has al­ready paid Raleigh res­i­dents over $1 mil­lion to charge and re­pair scoot­ers.

The scoot­ers are frus­trat­ing to many, es­pe­cially since we didn’t know they were com­ing. But the ben­e­fits so far out­weigh the dan­gers and the an­noy­ances. To the Raleigh City Coun­cil: Don’t crip­ple the scoot­ers be­cause of a few stupid users. And to my fel­low scooter lovers: Don’t be stupid when you ride them.

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