Columbia discussing ways to deal with pesky e-scooters
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.”
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.