City Likely to Gain E-Scooters, But Lose Spin Bike Share

The council is set to consider an ordinance that would pave the way for shared electric scooters, but bike share operator Spin said it is pulling out of the city after a pilot begun last year.

by Beth Musgrave, Lexington Herald-Leader / May 8, 2019
There were scooters everywhere at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Government Technology/Eyragon Eidam

(TNS) — Electric scooters could soon be available to rent in Lexington, Ky.,, but the orange Spin bicycles, which launched in June 2018, will be gone by July 1.

A committee of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve changes to a city ordinance that would allow up to five companies to provide shared-use mobility vehicles, such as electric scooters or electric bikes, in Kentucky’s second-largest city. Under the proposed changes, companies would be limited in the beginning to 400 vehicles per company.

The proposed ordinance will now go to the full council for approval, likely at a meeting next month. The proposal, though, will likely get more tweaks before a final vote.

Shared-used companies would have to purchase a $5,000 annual permit and pay a 25 cent per trip fee to the city, which would give half of that amount to UK. The companies would have to provide areas where scooters and bikes must be parked. Each company must also have a plan to redistribute bikes and scooters and must have a local manager.

The city and the University of Kentucky launched a pilot bike-share program using one provider —Spin — in June 2018. That pilot project was launched city-wide. The bikes can be rented and unlocked by downloading an app on most smart phones. Electric scooters operate the same way.

Two months after the Spin pilot began, companies such as Bird and Lime began dropping electric scooters in other cities without notice, causing scooter pile ups on sidewalks and headaches for cities that had no ordinances prohibiting or regulating shared-use vehicles.

Scott Thompson, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the area Metropolitan Planning Organization, told the council committee Tuesday that the group overseeing the pilot program quickly realized it must change city ordinances to address electric scooters and electric bikes.

The ordinance would prohibit scooters from being on sidewalks, unless a rider is leaving an area where the bike or electric scooter was parked. The scooters must be operated in bike lanes or shared use paths or streets, according to the ordinance.

No company without a permit can operate in the city, Thompson said.

If a scooter is left somewhere it is not allowed, the company has two hours to pick up the scooter or face a $500 a fine, according to the ordinance.

More than 50 percent of the Spin bicycle trips were on or near the UK Campus. That’s why UK would receive 50 percent of the per ride fee, Thompson said.

Spin will pull out of Lexington on July 1, he said. Thompson said the market is moving toward electric scooters and electric bikes and moving away from pedal bikes. Spin wanted to bring electric scooters to Lexington a few months after it brought pedal bikes but the city denied that request until the changes to city ordinances were completed.

“There are companies that do have all three,” Thompson said.

The rapid proliferation of electric scooters in cities across the world has raised questions about safety. A February Consumer Reports investigation found at least 1,500 scooter injuries since 2017 in 47 cities where rental scooters are available. For example, Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., reported at least 250 people with injuries during that time period.

A May study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Austin, Texas, public health department found the most serious injuries related to scooters were head injuries. Fewer than one percent of the people in the study of Austin emergency room visits were wearing a helmet.

In California, two people died in electric scooter-related accidents in one week in March, prompting calls in that state for stricter regulations.

Paris recently banned scooters from sidewalks in part due to the rise in accidents.

Councilwoman Susan Lamb said she was recently in Nashville and said she was very concerned about safety. Lamb questioned if there would be speed limits for scooters or a requirement that riders wear helmets.

“We have set it at 15 miles per hour,” Thompson said. State law also says riders must be 16 years old to rent an electric scooter or bicycle.

Kentucky does not have a helmet law for bikes or motorcycles, Thompson said. But Thompson said the 25 cent per trip fee could be used for public safety campaigns encouraging helmet use. Thompson said the companies would also be encouraged to produce public safety campaigns. For example, Spin encourages users to use a helmet via their app when people unlock the bikes, he said.

Councilman Preston Worley said he had concerns about allowing UK to take half of the fees. Worley said he would like to see that changed to “up to” 50 percent of the fees if data shows those trips are generated to and from UK.

The council will also look at other changes in June. Lexpark, the city’s parking authority, would likely be the agency enforcing the prohibition of electric scooters on sidewalks, but the Lexpark board has not yet approved that change.

There is interest in the Lexington market, Thompson told the committee. A representative from Lime bikes told the committee Tuesday they are interested in coming to Lexington. In all, there are 13 shared-mobility companies in the country, he said.

©2019 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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