Electric scooters can stay in Raleigh, but one company will have to remove more than half its fleet, city leaders decide Tuesday.
The city council voted in favor of a capping the total number of scooters in the city at 1,500. Director of Transportation Michael Moore said there are currently about 1,430 scooters in Raleigh.
More than 1,100 belong to Bird while the rest are owned by Lime, the same company that operates LimeBike.
Under new rules, Raleigh transportation officials will limit operators to 500 scooters with a minimum of 50. The company and total limits will be reviewed and evaluated through 2019 for the possibility of adjustments.
“If they would like to operate legally, then they will comply with the cap,” Moore said. If not? “We will then start to have to remove the scooters.”
The current plan is to charge companies $290 for applications and $150 per scooter per year.
Moore’s staff recommended $100 per unit, but councilman Corey Branch said that only generates a maximum of $150,000 a year which he deemed insufficient. Raleigh Councilman Dickie Thompson proposed the increase to $150 per scooter.
The money will cover costs including infrastructure investments such as parking areas, signage, additional bike lanes, and enforcement of rules on riders and operators. Moore said the city’s parking division has a vacant position which could be dedicated to scooter parking enforcement.
Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said her department has limited resources for regulating riders.
“The concern for me as chief is the unreasonable expectation when you have 1,000 plus scooters throughout the city. It places additional pressures on our officers,” she said.
“There is a very strong and very heavy educational process before enforcement has to happen by us. There needs to be a true plan of direction as to how we’re going to deal with this and how it grows in the future.”
Thompson said the continued conversations about education and informing riders of the rules are inexcusable. He pointed to the printing on every scooter which states basic requirements.
The foot area on Bird scooters lists: Helmet Required, License Required, No Riding on Sidewalks, No Double Riding, 18+ Years Old.
Lime scooters have decals on the handlebar posts which state: Park properly, Helmet is required, 18+ years old to ride for your safety, DO NOT ride on sidewalk or block traffic.
“This problem is out of control. These folks riding these scooters, you talk about more education? How much more education do you need when it says do not ride on the sidewalks? They’ve been doing this for months and blatantly disregarding those instructions. We’ve had accidents, people have been hurt, thank god no one’s been killed,” Thompson said.
“We need to get a grip on this now, and I think the only way you’re going to get people to stop riding on sidewalks is to start writing tickets,” Thompson said.
Deck-Brown said officers have issued two citations to people for riding scooters on sidewalks.
One incident involved an impaired rider who received an additional DWI charge. Police stopped the other rider for blocking an intersection. The chief said that case also included charges against the rider for possession of a firearm which was used in a robbery.
As the scooters have grown more popular, some Raleigh residents say they’ve improved their lives.
“I don’t have to catch the bus. I don’t have to walk. I feel good. Click it, pay for it and go,” said Ronnie Sanders.
McCauley Peeler said he doesn’t own a car. He uses the scooters to cut down on the time it takes to get to work and go around town. He’s noticed some issues with how some riders use them.
“A lot of people kind of abuse the privilege that we have to have them and kind of ride them too fast on the sidewalk or cut in front of cars,” he said.
Council members Russ Stevenson and Nicole Stewart are the most frequent riders among the elected officials.
Stevenson expressed concern about a proposal to require riders to park their scooters on paved portions of the right of way, as some neighborhoods do not have sidewalks. He said it inconveniences riders if they must get off of the vehicles and walk a few blocks home, when the companies pick up the scooters wherever they are left.
Moore said his staff would consider the possibility of allowing people to park at the curb in front of their homes.
Stewart said she would like for there to be some allowances for riders on sidewalks in areas away from downtown. She said concentrated areas such as Glenwood South have a lot of people using sidewalks, but areas such as the stretch of Six Forks Road between Midtown and North Hills have fast moving traffic, no bike lanes, and few people on the sidewalks.
“If we could allow scooters to ride on the sidewalks, you’re all of a sudden activating neighborhoods to be taking scooters or bikes to North Hills instead of getting in their cars,” Stewart said.
Stevenson said the wide range of speeds and traffic on Raleigh’s streets, as well as the places with sidewalks and bike lanes, poses a challenge for creating city-wide regulations.
“It’s going to be almost impossible to come up with a customized set of rules about where you can and can’t, but it will fall to where we think it’s important to enforce riding on sidewalk rules. I don’t see an easy answer to say on a high-speed street you just won’t ever get to use a scooter there if there’s an ample sidewalk there,” he said.
Councilwoman Stewart said there is too much attention on the potential negatives of scooters. She said arguments about causing crashes and blocking intersections are not happening when it comes to cars, which she said have issues much more often.
“One of our community values is getting more people on bikes and walking, and on other transportation that’s not cars. We’re talking transit and investing tons of money in that. Here we are debating about where we’re going to park these things, and I’m just really frustrated about where the conversation is going instead of embracing a new technology and really being the city we want to be,” she said.
Councilman Branch said safety remains the biggest issue. While drivers need to share the road, Branch said riders have a great responsibility to operate scooters safely and in accordance with existing traffic laws.
He said Bird and Lime also need to take part in monitoring how customers use their scooters.
“We have to make sure that we have a hardcore press from these companies from a safety standpoint. I’m hearing conversations of really teaching people that if you’re on a scooter and you come to a stop sign, you’ve got to stop too. And the same thing for bikes as well, you have to stop,” Branch said.
“Someone called me two weeks and said ‘I almost hit two people because they cut through and they didn’t stop’,” he said.
“We have to be safe. It’s very possible that a few people being reckless could cause things to just disappear and I don’t want us to say oh because somebody died, now we’re removing the scooters.”
Raleigh’s Transportation Department is in the process of putting together Requests for Proposals (RFP) for companies to submit information about their operations, equity, and safety plans.
Representatives from Bird and Lime attended Tuesday’s council meeting but declined interviews, referring all requests for comment to the corporate offices.
A Bird spokeserson released the following statements to CBS 17:
“Bird is committed to partnering with cities to ensure that the community, and its visitors, safely embrace our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option. We strive to improve and enhance the well-being of our riders and communities through concrete action, including: restricting the maximum speed of the vehicles, requiring riders to upload a driver’s license and confirm they are 18 or older, providing an in-app tutorial on how to ride a Bird and how to park it, and posting clear safety instructions on each Bird. Additionally, Bird recently formed the Global Safety Advisory Board, which will create, advise, and implement global programs, campaigns, and products to improve the safety of those riding Birds and other e-scooters.
“We strongly recommend reporting any damaged scooters or incidents that Bird scooters are involved in, as we have a support team dedicated to safety that is available around the clock to address questions and reports we receive. Bird provides a number of ways for people to reach us including by email, through our in-app messaging feature, and by phone.”