What are other cities saying about electric scooter rentals?

What are other cities saying about electric scooter rentals?
Posted at 12:00 PM, Jul 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-30 14:09:06-04

CINCINNATI -- Electric scooter rental in Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and The Banks popped up by surprise Thursday, but Cincinnati is far from the first city to see a scooter-share company move in to town unexpectedly.

And it turns out, the scooter-rental game might not be so fun, based on recent reactions from some cities.

RELATED: Rentable electric Bird scooters pop up Downtown overnight

As close as Indianapolis, the electric scooters are banned, even though the Indianapolis City-County Council is working on legislation that could make them allowable on city streets, according to WCPO's sister station RTV6.

Police were not enforcing the ban, RTV6 reported, and that led many to observe renters riding the scooters on sidewalks. About a month after launching in June, Bird -- the same California-based company that launched in Cincinnati this week -- pulled their scooters from Indianapolis streets pending new legislation to accommodate their presence.

Indianapolis isn't alone.

In just the last few months, reports out of Boston, San Francisco, St. Paul, Charlotte, Denver, Austin, Nashville and others have chronicled a bumpy transition period between city governments and their police departments and the companies behind the e-scooter rental craze.

The city of Denver told two e-scooter companies operating there to remove their scooters from the public right-of-way immediately, according to sister station Denver7.

St. Paul has found itself locked in a back-and-forth with Bird, while Bird's competitor -- Lime, the popular bike-share company -- has started setting up shop in Minneapolis, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, ordered the e-scooters off the street, the Boston Herald reported last week.

The list goes on.

The prevailing theme: Cities weren't prepared with legislation or ordinances that clearly defined where these scooters were allowed to roll.

Cincinnati might be in the same boat, especially since the city didn't know the e-scooters were coming until they arrived this morning.

In a statement to WCPO, a city spokesperson said:

The city of Cincinnati learned this morning that Bird -- a dockless scooter-share company -- has launched operations in Cincinnati. Given that we just learned of the matter, we are still in the process of evaluating the possible impact on neighborhoods.

According to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the scooters aren't classified with other motorized two-wheel vehicles, like motorcycles or mopeds because they don't have a seat or lights, and the motor isn't big enough.

WCPO consulted Anderson Township attorney Steve Magas, whose practice centers around bicyclists and rules of the road. He wasn't sure how to classify the scooters.

"I don't know that they are 'illegal,' per se. They are unregulated," Magas said. "Apparently the business model here is to drop these devices down in a good size quantity and worry about the legal hurdles later."

Some cities have been able to work through the legal conflict -- but not before having to go through the courts. According to Forbes, Santa Monica, California, in February resolved a lawsuit with Bird after the city "filed a criminal complaint against it in December for operating without the right kind of business license."

"Under the agreement, the city agreed to dismiss the nine original misdemeanor counts, and the company agreed to plead no contest to a single infraction of the city's municipal code," Bird spokesman Marcus Reese said in a statement to Forbes.

Legal conundrum or not, not everyone sees them as a nuisance. The L.A. Times Editorial Board wrote in June:

They’re convenient, affordable ways to travel short distances without getting in a car and driving. If cities are serious about creating alternative modes of transportation that don’t involve polluting cars or bumper-to-bumper traffic, then they ought to develop rules that allow the expansion of shared scooters and “dockless” bikes.

Meantime, the city of Cincinnati said it is working to examine the scooter rental business before taking any appropriate or necessary action.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.