(TNS) — Sorry, scooter haters. They're here to stay.
The Indianapolis city-Marion County council is hammering out a compromise that would allow electric scooter companies to continue doing business in Indianapolis under a new set of regulations. The rules likely will accelerate the spread of dockless scooters across the city, while also clarifying where they can be parked and ridden.
The council's public works committee on Thursday is scheduled to consider a proposal that would ban electric scooters from public rights of way. But Mayor Joe Hogsett and several council members said they do not want to eliminate the scooters — they just want the scooter companies to operate fairly and safely.
Council Vice President Zach Adamson, a Democrat who chairs the public works committee, said he expects to take up an amendment that authorizes the scooters under several conditions, including a requirement that operators file for permits and licenses. Adamson expects the proposal to pass through the full council July 16.
"I'm hopeful the committee will agree this is a good, happy place where everybody gets a little something and nobody gets everything they want," Adamson said.
The council action is a first step for Indianapolis in a process that for months has been playing out in cities across the country, with varying degrees of consternation. Cities from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., have wrestled with accommodating a product that supporters see as a complement to public transit and detractors see as a nuisance, somewhat tracking reactions to the rollout of ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft.
Mayor Joe Hogsett's administration has sought to walk a tightrope between welcoming scooter operators and asking them for cooperation as the city reviews business practices and safety measures.
"I think it's important that as a city we embrace new technology," Hogsett said. "Personal mobility is a very important aspect of what we try to accomplish on behalf of the residents of our city, so I want that to be established at the outset."
The first scooter companies on the scene in Indianapolis have not come to town with the same spirit of cooperation.
Bird, a California-based electric scooter startup with a $1 billion valuation, introduced dockless scooters to Indianapolis earlier this month. The city asked Bird to suspend operations for 30 days while it considered regulations. The company defied that request — as it has in other cities — saying in a statement that it will continue "to serve our new Indy riders as we work with city leaders to create a regulatory framework that works best for the people of Indianapolis and helps them meet their goals."
Another company, Lime, launched service last week, citing a competitive disadvantage that would come with sitting on the sidelines while Bird built a customer base in Indianapolis. More companies likely will follow. San Francisco, for instance, is planning to select five scooter operators out of a field of a dozen applicants seeking to enter the market.
"We continue to request that these companies not operate until we have a regulatory framework in place," said Thomas Cook, Hogsett's chief of staff. "They have thus far not appreciated our request. When we put a regulatory framework in place, we’re going to also be putting in place measures that if companies continue to disregard the law, it will lead to punitive actions against them and their legal inability to operate in the city.
"We want to embrace these forms of technology. We also want to have all businesses in the city treated equally."
The motorized scooters travel up to 15 miles per hour. The two companies operating in Indianapolis so far charge an initial fee of $1 per ride and 15 cents per minute. Unlike the city's bike rental system, electric scooters do not have stations. People can find the scooters on sidewalks across the city and park them when their trip is finished.
The council likely will regulate where the scooters can be parked, requiring them to be kept away from areas such as ramps and doorways. The language of the scooter compromise was not final as of Wednesday, council members said.
Council President Vop Osili, a Democrat and member of the public works committee, said in an interview that the council is "drafting a proposal that is sensitive to affordable transportation options and to all users of our public infrastructure."
One concern among city officials has been that scooters can be left anywhere, including in places that block access to buildings.
"The (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant nature of our current infrastructure is harmed when people are putting scooters in the middle of sidewalks or blocking ADA ramps," Cook said.
The city wants operators to educate users on wearing helmets and operating in places allowed by law, Cook said.
As city officials acquiesce to electric scooters, Adamson said the council's short-term action will still limit where they can be ridden. Scooters count as motorized vehicles, which are banned on sidewalks and trails.
"It will still be illegal for scooters to be on the sidewalks, the Monon and the Cultural Trail," Adamson said. "That does not change."
Adamson said bike lanes would be an appropriate place for scooters until the city establishes additional rules on usage. The city so far has not ticketed scooter users who ride on sidewalks.
"I think that’s probably going to be the next iteration of this conversation, which is from a user standpoint," Cook said.
Adamson, who has received complaints about the scooters from constituents, said he'll feel better about riding them next month.
"I was refraining from getting a membership, waiting for them to be legal first. It is my belief they're operating illegally," Adamson said. "I do look forward to trying them out."
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