Columbia dis­cussing ways to deal with pesky e-scoot­ers

The State (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY SARAH EL­LIS sel­[email protected]­tate.com

One of the most re­cently po­lar­iz­ing trends in cities across Amer­ica is be­gin­ning to catch the at­ten­tion of Columbia lead­ers: Dock­less, elec­tric scoot­ers.

They’re not mopeds. They’re more like the Ra­zor scoot­ers you or your kids might have rid­den in the 2000s, ex­cept these are pow­ered with recharge­able elec­tric mo­tors.

They’ve been wildly pop­u­lar in some places, hailed as af­ford­able, en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly and just down­right fun. They’re also highly con­tro­ver­sial, spark­ing bans in some cities and a law­suit in Cal­i­for­nia.

In many re­ported cases, the scoot­ers have been left ly­ing hap­haz­ardly across cities, prompt­ing con­cerns about safety and reg­u­la­tion.

In Columbia, lo­cal com­pany Zapp Rideshare re­cently added 100 stand-up elec­tric scoot­ers to its fleet of three-wheeled moped scoot­ers. Nei­ther of the two most rec­og­niz­able na­tional e-scooter com­pa­nies, Bird and Lime, have ven­tured into Columbia.

Columbia lead­ers are be­gin­ning to dis­cuss how to head off some of the is­sues other cities have en­coun­tered with the scoot­ers.

“The scoot­ers are very pop­u­lar, and ob­vi­ously you’re also hear­ing from some city lead­ers that they some­times rep­re­sent a safety con­cern and even, at times, a pub­lic nui­sance,” Columbia Mayor Steve Ben­jamin said, adding that he has spo­ken with and seen pre­sen­ta­tions by scooter rep­re­sen­ta­tives at var­i­ous con­fer­ences. “We’re try­ing to do a thought­ful job in weigh­ing all the pros and cons and hav­ing the proper reg­u­la­tion.”

‘A NEG­A­TIVE CON­NO­TA­TION’

The scooter busi­nesses are sim­i­lar in con­cept to a bike share — which Columbia re­cently launched — but dif­fer­ent in that in many cities, the scoot­ers have no dock­ing sta­tions, no city-ap­proved gath­er­ing points.

The idea is you down­load a smart­phone app, link it to your credit card and pay a fee every time you hop on a scooter, which you can lo­cate any­where across a city or col­lege cam­pus

us­ing the app.

Zapp scoot­ers, both their three-wheeled moped model and their new standup model, must be dropped off at dock­ing sta­tions in des­ig­nated lo­ca­tions in Columbia. That dif­fers from the ma­jor scooter com­pa­nies’ leave-it-any­where prac­tice in some cities.

“I know that peo­ple have a neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion in their minds if they’ve vis­ited other (places),” said Frank Scoz­zafava, who founded Zapp Rideshare in Columbia in 2016. “We’re dif­fer­ent. We don’t let peo­ple leave them every­where, and we’re re­spon­si­ble.”

Zapp is in the process of ex­pand­ing its busi­ness to the Ari­zona State Univer­sity and UCLA cam­puses, Scoz­zafava said.

Zapp re­cently added the standup scoot­ers to its Columbia fleet be­cause Scoz­zafava heard a de­mand from Univer­sity of South Carolina stu­dents, he said. The ini­tial 100 scoot­ers soon will be re­placed by an up­graded model that will in­clude an Led-lighted flag, elec­tronic voice fea­ture and a so­bri­ety test­ing fea­ture, he said. Zapp also plans to add elec­tric-as­sisted bikes to its fleet.

“I be­lieve there’s too many cars on the road. There’s park­ing prob­lems, pol­lu­tion prob­lems,” Scoz­zafava said. Elec­tric scoot­ers, he said, can be part of the so­lu­tion to those prob­lems.

RULES TO COME?

But the scoot­ers have caused prob­lems of their own in many cities.

Some lo­cal gov­ern­ments are grap­pling with what to do with these things left ly­ing willy nilly along their side­walks and streets, in front of busi­nesses and in park­ing spa­ces. And they have scram­bled to reg­u­late the busi­nesses as they quickly pop up in their cities.

In some cities, in­clud­ing Charleston, e-scooter com­pa­nies have set up shop and dropped scoot­ers on the ground without warn­ing or per­mis­sion from city lead­ers. Charleston city lead­ers swifty sent a cease-and-de­sist let­ter to the of­fend­ing com­pany, Bird, and had the ve­hi­cles promptly re­moved this sum­mer, The Post & Courier re­ported.

In other cities, in­clud­ing Chicago and Chat­tanooga, scooter com­pa­nies are wait­ing for ap­proval to do busi­ness while lo­cal lead­ers de­cide how to reg­u­late them.

The new­ness of the trend means there aren’t many laws ad­dress­ing the op­er­a­tion of the busi­nesses or the use of the scoot­ers.

Some cities, such as Char­lotte, have adapted lo­cal reg­u­la­tions and em­braced the scoot­ers. Char­lotte has about 800 scoot­ers and a Shared Mo­bil­ity Pro­gram that out­lines rules for riders, such as where they can park the scoot­ers, and for the busi­ness oper­a­tors, such as the amount of in­sur­ance cov­er­age they must have.

“It’s a new form of trans­porta­tion, and there are some dan­gers in­her­ent,” Columbia City Coun­cil­man Howard Duvall said. “It will be a lot eas­ier to deal with it if we get ahead of the curve and get reg­u­la­tions in place be­fore they ar­rive.”

Columbia could per­haps bor­row some or­di­nance lan­guage from other cities that al­ready have faced the scooter is­sue, Duvall said.

Scoz­zafava agreed that Columbia would do well to write new rules be­fore more scoot­ers ar­rive.

“I guar­an­tee you that if the city of Columbia doesn’t put some or­di­nances and reg­u­la­tions in to help do it in a more re­spon­si­ble man­ner, they’re go­ing to be fight­ing with the big com­pa­nies,” Scoz­zafava said. “The same way every­body tried to keep Uber and Lyft out, how’d that work out? If peo­ple want (the scoot­ers), it’s com­ing.”

JOHN D. SIM­MONS jsim­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Dock­less, elec­tric scoot­ers have been wildly pop­u­lar and highly prob­lem­atic in cities like Raleigh and Char­lotte. Ma­jor com­pa­nies Bird and Lime have not ar­rived in Columbia , but lead­ers are con­sid­er­ing ways to avoid prob­lems.

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