By Leslee Kulba- Minutes after the City of Asheville banned e-scooters, John Stossel tweeted a link to his YouTube video, “Stossel: War on Electric Scooters.” The scooters are easy to maneuver, go up to 17 mph, and don’t require extensive infrastructure.
Bike rentals, for example, can come with docks costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some business have tried dockless bike rentals that work on the honor system, but a scooter is easier to push out of the way than a bicycle.
In the business model used by shared-economy startups Bird and Lime, the scooters are dropped overnight in a town. Lime scooters, featured in Stossel’s presentation, are battery-powered skateboards with a handle for steering. They can be started with an app for $2. When somebody is done with them, they leave them wherever and the brakes lock. If somebody tries to steal one, an alarm will sound calling the person a thief, and the position of the stolen bike will be tracked at headquarters.
Stossel interviewed Jennifer Skees of the Mercatus Center, who explained, “It’s a new twist on old technology that entrepreneurs found to give us something that works even better to solve needs in dense urban areas.” With the scooter drops, entrepreneurs are playing a game of cat-and-mouse, trying to get enough people hooked on the new idea before politicians can catch up with the regulatory process, which Stossel noted could hold up technology a couple of years.
Public outcry claims the scooters result in bruises, accidents, and even death. Advocates for e-scooters, however, note people get into accidents with bicycles and cars, and some people trip just walking. Nobody is trying to ban any of those modes of transportation. Other opponents claim the scooters are gentrifying and/or toxic. “Whenever there’s something new, the media always hypes the problems,” observed Stossel.
Back to Asheville, Transportation Department Director explained the problem. “Before you tonight is consideration of an ordinance that would regulate the use of e-scooters in the City of Asheville, and one of the primary reasons for that is to prevent unregulated use…,” he began.
Putnam recounted how the city had contracted for a study on regulating bikeshares earlier this year. But technology is evolving so fast, it is difficult to keep pace.
When the study began, the city was looking at docked bikes, then dockless bikes were the rage, and by September, e-scooters were in the news. In October, the Multimodal Commission supported adding the scooters to the study, and days later civil servants forewent their daily tasks to round up 200 e-scooters that had descended upon the city overnight.
Putnam said Bird was contacted, and their spokesperson said they would not return the scooters to the streets until the city was comfortable with how they would be regulated. Then, two days later, the scooters reappeared, and the city took out a restraining order. Council was now being asked to approve, and they did unanimously, a ban with a $100 fine per violation that would work like a towing impoundment.
Acting city attorney Sabrina Presnell Rockoff clarified that due process prevented the city from actually collecting the fine, so impounded e-scooters not reclaimed in 30 days would be disposed-of.
During public comment, Jeff Kaplan, director of Venture Asheville, tried to explain. “This is the tip of iceberg. These scooters are nothing compared to what’s going to happen when we have mostly electric vehicles on the road, and those vehicles become autonomous, and then our public transportation has become autonomous. You need to get ahead of this. You should be a progressive city that welcomes a novel form of transportation. So, lead, instead of being left-behind.”
Manheimer said she didn’t think the city’s actions were the end of the discussion. “I spent 10 days in Israel this summer, and I’ve never seen so many scooters in my life,” she said. “That’s pretty much, I believe, how half the country gets around.” While she liked green transportation; she neither approved of Bird’s (scooter) droppings nor their failure, here and elsewhere, to keep their word and keep the scooters off the streets until regulatory ordinances could be adopted.
“I actually like the scooters,” contributed Councilor Keith Young. “I think it’s interesting. There’s always safety issues. I mean, we have the Pubcycle, so – … You can’t move at the speed of government all the time. You can’t take three years to do a study on something and then the next thing pops up. That’s the way the world works. Private enterprise and the people that thrive in a capitalist system don’t wait for government.
They make innovation when it happens as soon as it happens, and it’s up to government to catch up. I think we need to be more forward thinking and get ahead of the curve on some of these things.”