Opinion

Durham can learn from other cities’ scooter experiences

Electric Bird scooters have arrived in downtown Raleigh, Cameron Village and Oberlin

Deas Fenderson of Bird scooters gives a quick tutorial on how to use the dockless, electric scooters in downtown Raleigh
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Deas Fenderson of Bird scooters gives a quick tutorial on how to use the dockless, electric scooters in downtown Raleigh

I was sitting a few rows away when Durham City Council member Charlie Reece recounted his trip to Raleigh to try out the Triangle’s newest transportation fad: electric scooters.

The experience was “very instructive on both the promise and the peril of these devices,” he said, and then urged the council to postpone its vote on a proposed Durham’s scooter ordinance.

Companies are releasing rental scooters across the United States. Yet, it sometimes seems as if each city has to reinvent the wheel by passing its own rules. Before Durham signs off, here are some thoughts:

1: Mopeds? There’s debate over how scooters should be classified. Under N.C. law, electric scooters may be considered mopeds, which triggers certain requirements: lights, license plates, and rearview mirrors. Bird and Lime scooters have lights, but not license plates or rearview mirrors. It seem like either state law needs to change or the scooters need an upgrade.

2. Helmets: In Charlotte, adults riding scooters are a common, though somewhat cringeworthy, sight. But these two-wheelers aren’t like your childhood Razor; they accelerate quickly, topping out at 15 mph. And while it’s recommended that users wear helmets, few actually do. Perhaps Durham could partner with local businesses to set out bins with helmets that riders can borrow. People who use and return the helmet could get a discount on their ride. (This would improve safety without increasing ticketing, which often creates a financial burden for low-income community members who are intended to benefit from these transportation programs.)

3. Parking: The influx of dockless bikes initially turned Durham’s sidewalks into a jungle of discarded Lime and Spin bikes. Luckily, as more people use the vehicles, they tend to disperse into neighborhoods. With scooters coming, Durham is considering innovative ways to minimize parking problems, says Bryan Poole, a city transportation planner. For instance, in certain areas parking spaces for cars could be designated for shared dockless bikes and scooters. This could be a great solution.

4. Fees: The scooter ordinance would hike fees for bike and scooter sharing to $100 per scooter, $50 per electric assist bike, and $25 per non-motorized bike. A Bird representative complained, but Durham should charge a fair price for the services it will need to provide. From police to attorneys and neighborhood improvement services, the bikes and scooters siphon time and resources away from other projects.

The ordinance would also streamlines data collection for the city. Last year, Durham had trouble obtaining data it requested from bike companies, making it difficult to enforce the requirement that 20 percent of bikes be in certain census tracts at all times. This data will help ensure that Durham isn’t in the dark, giving the city the tools to enforce equitable access to bikes and scooters.

5. Jobs: Last summer, I wrote about people who make money from scooters while they sleep. They pick up scooters at the end of the day, charge them overnight, and return them the next morning. Some earn $200 a night, for only a few hours of work. The pay is good if you are able to charge many scooters a night, but as more people sign up to be chargers, the two-wheelers get harder to find.

Julianna Rennie is a sophomore studying journalism and public policy. She covers local government for The 9th Street Journal at Duke University. See a fuller version of this column at bit.ly/2EfzLTJ#

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