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Debated and banned in other cities, electric scooters have arrived in downtown Raleigh

Electric scooters — topping out at speeds of 15 mph— have been spotted in downtown and other parts of Raleigh.

But the dockless, electric Bird-brand scooters don't exactly have the city of Raleigh's blessing.

"No, there has been no coordination with the city on this launch, nor has there been any permitting or approvals at this point," said Eric Lamb, Raleigh's transportation planning manager.

John Boyette, the city's public information officer, said "all we can say is we are assessing the situation to determine our best of course of action."

The scooters were released in downtown, Cameron Village and Oberlin on Wednesday, according to a news release for the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company. The Downtown Raleigh Alliance tweeted out that 150 had been placed in downtown and that "safety was critical."

The only other North Carolina city where the scooters are located is in Charlotte. They launched in June, just a few weeks before San Francisco ordered hundreds of the scooters off its streets saying that Bird and two other companies had started operating without permits.

The city of Santa Monica sued the company for operating without a business license, and the company agreed to pay $300,000 in fines and other fees.

"Raleigh is a growing and thriving city that recognizes the importance of an accessible and reliable transit system," according to a Bird press release. "We are excited to bring our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option to the people and communities of Raleigh. Birds are perfect for those 'last mile' trips that are too long to walk, but too short to drive."

It costs $1 to start each ride and 15-cents per minute to ride the scooters, which can reach speeds up to 15 mph. They can go about 15 miles before needing to be recharged.

The scooters are supposed to be ridden in bike lanes or on the street instead of the sidewalks, but people were already zipping down Fayetteville Street's sidewalks Wednesday afternoon.

N.C. State University students Sarah Novroski and Michael Knott were two of the first to try the scooters after grabbing a bite to eat Wednesday afternoon.

"I got really excited and flipped out," Knott said. "I've seen them in Charlotte and haven't seen them here. I think it's really cool. I think it's really great for people trying to commute for lunch really quick. It's nice to zip somewhere and zip back."

James Sutton, who works in downtown and lives near Shaw University, said he was looking forward to riding the scooters but wanted there to be a conversation about what to do with them when people are done. His neighborhood had an issue with the dockless LimeBikes being left in packs in people's front yards.

"There's some discussion a community has to have about things like this," he said. "About how do you properly use them, riding them on the sidewalks versus the streets, leaving them on the sidewalk in front of someone's front yard or leaving them in a public space."

He bikes to work and joked there might be some days he's feeling tired and would want to take a scooter instead.

"I think the more downtown adds things like this it's a value added," he said.

Downtown Raleigh Alliance President and CEO Kris Larson said he plans to reach out to his counterparts that have the systems in place to "learn how we can avoid the challenges they experienced and best incorporate the scooters."

“The motorized scooters provide a fun, less strenuous mobility solution that helps improve connectivity and relieve automotive congestion in Downtown Raleigh," he said. "However, we want to stress the importance of safe operation, and hope that Bird will exercise sound judgment in seeking the appropriate permits from the city."

The scooters are picked up in the evening to be charged in storage before being redeployed the next day at 7 a.m. at businesses called "nests." A list of nearby locations of where to find the scooters was not readily available.

Bird and two other scooter companies have expressed interest in coming to Durham and asked city staff about its existing laws and ordinances.

"We plan to make a recommendation to city council in the late summer or fall, at the same time we make recommendations on modifications to our dockless bike share permit process," said Bryan Poole, Durham's bicycle and pedestrian transportation planner.

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