The Harrisonburg City Council agreed to extend legislation on electric scooters and shared mobility devices by placing limits on fleet size. During Tuesday’s city council meeting, City Attorney Chris Brown presented the highlights of a memo detailing the city’s action plan for the next 12 months regarding the devices.
Brown spent the last few months looking into an estimated 15-20 Virginia and non-Virginia localities to see how they’ve addressed the disruptions caused by e-scooters. He presented what he calls a “pilot project” that lays out regulations that correspond with other localities. Over the next 12 months, the city will obtain data to determine how e-scooters can be useful forms of transportation as well as what courses of actions are best suited for regulating them.
“If it provides transportation alternatives to folks who maybe are fairly limited then that’s a good thing, but we need to get that data to see how it works,” Brown said.
E-scooter companies planning on placing scooters in Harrisonburg will be capped at 100 scooters and need to maintain an average of four rides per day per scooter in order to justify the fleet size. There’s an exception for companies such as Bird and Lime that were present in the city before Jan. 1; they are permitted to keep their fleet size at “well over 100.” When JMU isn’t in session, the fleet size limit will be decreased, and once school is back in session, companies can return scooters to the previous amount. The city will receive real-time data on scooter usage and locations.
Council member Richard Baugh, who’s been in contact with e-scooter company Bird, said it has no problem with the city’s regulations, as they’re consistent with policies in other cities. The only issue the company expressed was maintaining the average of four rides per day; however, Brown said the average of four is a compromise from the originally proposed five. Baugh’s communications with the company reveal Bird is willing to work to comply with regulations. A representative for Bird was not available for response.
“[They] were essentially OK with giving this a try,” Baugh said. “Again, with both sides recognizing that a lot of this is unchartered waters and what we see six months down the road maybe we’ll learn something and make some adjustments.”
In regard to the apparent lack of Bird scooters currently in Harrisonburg, Assistant City Attorney Wesley Russ said in an email that the company had informed the city in December that they would be removing their scooters temporarily. This removal would be due to the winter weather conditions and students being gone for break. Russ had been in touch with the company this week updating them on the regulations and they expressed interest in returning to Harrisonburg; however, they didn’t specify when this might happen.
The city is also implementing an $8,000 fee if companies fail to respond to incidents reported by either the Harrisonburg Public Works and Harrisonburg Police Department. The city expects a response from companies within two hours if there’s a situation that could result in damage to property or someone getting hurt.
Bird and Lime are still responsible for reminding users, through the app, not to ride on city sidewalks and to ride responsibly. The companies must also keep track of where scooters are left to make sure they’re within regulation and avoid the impoundment of scooters.
Mayor Deanna Reed commented on how important she believes these regulations are as they’ve been months in the making. She also said she appreciated feedback from the people of Harrisonburg and the research Brown put into this issue.
With the regulations in place, the council expressed interest in the business aspect of the scooters. Council member Chris Jones addressed feedback he’d been receiving from advocates for e-scooters and explained his stance on the ties between business and regulation.
“Of course we need to put something in place, if for no other reasons, so those companies could do business with us,” Jones said. “I’m all about anybody who wants to come do business in Harrisonburg, as long as it’s reasonable and can follow within our ordinances.”
While the council hopes these regulations will lead to a positive business experience for the city and the companies, scooters will be removed from the city with a 10-day notice to the companies if the new guidelines aren't being followed.
Reed commented on how the regulations seem to be going well since the council began addressing the issue in October 2018. She joked about how previous misplacement of the scooters could’ve affected the outcome of the meeting.
“It looks like it’s beginning to be more organized,” Reed said. “I mean, I’m not seeing scooters laying all over the place. They’re not sitting in front of my house anymore, which is a good thing because today could have went to the left.”
Contact Megan Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.