IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Lawmakers Want to Restart Pittsburgh E-Scooter Program

While the continuation of Pittsburgh's pilot program with battery-powered scooters has been frozen by a state budget impasse, it may restart soon with fines for the program operator for letting scooters lay around.

(TNS) — While the possible continuation of Pittsburgh's pilot program with battery-powered scooters has been frozen by a state budget impasse, state Sen. Jay Costa said it is likely to restart — but this time with potential fines for the program operator for letting scooters lay around.

The state budget for the 2024 fiscal year that started June 1 is 11 days overdue and there was no indication Tuesday of an imminent resolution. In a statement issued late Monday, a spokesperson for Gov. Josh Shapiro said he remained committed to "working with both parties and both chambers in order to finalize a budget."

The budget impasse has thrown future funding for a number of government initiatives into limbo. One is Pittsburgh's two-year "e-scooters" pilot program that debuted in mid-2021 thanks to enabling language in a state budget-related bill.

Mr. Costa, D-Allegheny and the Senate Democratic leader, was among those working on an extension when partisan disputes derailed the budget process. Progress halted on bills that might have included language to produce an immediate extension.

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey last week announced "an indefinite pause" in the program that lets riders rent low-speed scooters driven by battery-powered motors. Mr. Costa said he has been having conversations with community representatives and the program operator, San Francisco-based Skinny Labs Inc., which does business as "Spin." He predicted the program would return, but with significant changes.

"Unfortunately, this all got caught up in the budget process," Mr. Costa said.

One significant potential alteration outlined by Mr. Costa would be allowing fines for the program operator when an abandoned scooter is not picked up within three hours. Previously, Mr. Costa criticized how scooters have been found littering sidewalks, driveways and even curb cuts and other areas intended to provide accessibility for people with disabilities. Mr. Costa cited an example of a blind person using a familiar route, then encountering an abandoned e-scooter.

Other proposed fines would target users who violate rules, Mr. Costa said. Discussions about extending the program have covered creation of a complaint line; making the complaint line phone number visible on each scooter; requirements for more data collection on abandoned scooters and fines; and a requirement that the city adopt an ordinance covering the changes.

Beyond that, Mr. Costa said, any extension of the pilot program will likely be one year and not two.

"The goal of the changes we are trying to make is to advance public safety," he said. "The user community needs to understand the issues they have created."

Mr. Costa said Spin has said it will invest additional money into new scooters with new technology, as well as making sure there are more holding areas for scooters in the city. But he said that while discussions on improvements are happening with Spin, the city — after it gets the state's green light — can hire any company for the program.

Spin has had a succession of owners, and the latest is Germany-based Tier Mobility. Early this year, Spin carried out the latest in a series of employee layoffs.

The restart of the Pittsburgh program is hostage to the ongoing budget fight. The partisan face-off grew out of steadily increasing friction between Democrats and Republicans in the divided Legislature in late June, as the fiscal year came to a close.

A spokesperson for Mr. Shapiro, a Democrat who has proven willing to work with Republicans, struck a positive tone in his Monday statement. Manuel Bonder, Mr. Shapiro's press secretary, specifically mentioned two key players: Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana and the Senate majority leader, and Rep. Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery and House majority leader.

"Throughout this process, Gov. Shapiro has been engaged in productive conversations with Leader Pittman and Leader Bradford — and while there is still more work to do, he remains committed to working with both parties and both chambers in order to finalize a budget that addresses the most pressing issues facing our Commonwealth," Mr. Bonder said. "As he always has, the governor will continue working to bring Republicans and Democrats together in order to deliver real results for all Pennsylvanians."

A protracted budget dispute could give a higher profile to state Treasurer Stacy Garrity, whose office oversees funds with tens of billions of dollars used for many purposes, including long-term savings and paying bills. The state's so-called "Rainy Day Fund" currently holds about $5.1 billion, and the General Fund about $15.9 billion.

Without a budget in place, questions could arise about granting some requests for payment. A spokesperson for Ms. Garrity, Erik Arneson, said an unusual scenario might develop if a spending bill is signed into law without the other "code" bills that traditionally accompany it and describe the implementation of spending.

"That could lead to some payment requests being returned due to a lack of sufficient spending authority," Mr. Arneson said. "Any such decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis after a thorough review by Treasury's fiscal review team. If a payment request is returned to an agency, the agency could wait until the relevant code bill is enacted and resubmit that request."

The House on June 5 passed an appropriations bill — the key measure creating the budget — in a party-line vote over Republican objections. On June 30, the Senate approved a new and vastly different version of the bill. A key change was the addition of a voucher-style program that would use taxpayer-funded scholarships to let students in low-performing schools attend private ones.

All Senate Republicans and one Democrat voted for the bill. Senate Republicans highlighted the fact that Mr. Shapiro's administration helped create it

After it came back to the House — where Mr. Bradford said there was not enough support for approval of the scholarship program — Mr. Shapiro said he would line-item veto the $100 million appropriation for the scholarship program, in part to get the budget moving.

But subsequent passage of the spending bill by the House was not the final step for the bill before going to Mr. Shapiro for his signature. The process requires a signature on the bill in the Senate — with senators physically present in the chamber — and top Republicans already have discharged the chamber until September.

And in a starkly worded letter Tuesday that gave no hint of an end to the impasse, Mr. Pittman said Tuesday that he saw no reason to call the chamber back to session just to send a disputed spending bill to the governor.

On Tuesday, the House held a brief, non-voting session, then discharged until Sept. 26. Its members are on 12-hour recall notice.

© 2023 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.