Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Wilmington leaders talk possible scooter sharing in Downtown, opt to wait on state lawmakers for guidance

Scooter sharing companies is likely going to be a topic of discussion for state lawmakers in the upcoming long session.

Scooter sharing in Wilmington? Local leaders are preparing for the possibiltity but will likely wait on state lawmakers to decide the fate of these electric vehicles (Port City Daily/Courtesy Bird)
Scooter sharing in Wilmington? Local leaders are preparing for the possibiltity but will likely wait on state lawmakers to decide the fate of these electric vehicles. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Bird)

WILMINGTON — City leaders are preparing for a seemingly inevitable hoard of electric scooters, preparing to descend upon the streets of Wilmington, similar to what has been seen throughout the state in cities like Raleigh and Charlotte.

Scooter sharing companies have popped up in municipalities seemingly overnight and dropped hundreds of scooters around towns. This somewhat new concept has left municipalities scrambling to figure out if the scooters are even legal, and how to regulate their use.

In an effort to be proactive, the City of Wilmington has been looking into these companies and has tasked Assistant City Attorney Daniel Thurston with figuring out what can be done to regulate the scooters before they become an issue.

“What basically happens is you wake up in the morning and a couple hundred scooters have been dropped off in your town … these scooters themselves can be a heck of a lot of fun so I’ve heard. The can be rather dangerous for the operators of the scooters and pedestrians and other individuals … ” Thurston said on Monday morning during a City Council agenda briefing.

The city has actually been looking into bringing a bike-sharing program to Wilmington and is working with a company to do so soon.

Related: Bike-sharing program on track, Wilmington preparing for possible scooter-sharing problems

But the scooter sharing companies pose a unique problem for local governments because there is nothing in state law that regulates them — for now.

State lawmakers have agreed to address the scooters in upcoming legislative sessions. Some cities, including Winston-Salem and Asheville, have chosen to ban the scooters until state regulations are in place. Other cities, like Greensboro, Durham, and Raleigh, charge companies a per-scooter fee. Charlotte has held off, although that may change in the near future, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Thurston — along with other government employees and stakeholders — had a meeting to discuss the possibility of scooter sharing coming to the Port City, and whether or not it was something the city wanted to be proactive towards, or reactive.

The pros and cons

If gone about the right way, Thurston said he believes the scooters could be a wonderful thing for Wilmington and residents. If scooters were introduced to downtown, people who previously might not have had a way to get around town would be more mobile.

“If you commute downtown with somebody else, once you get downtown you’re kind of stuck here. You get an hour for lunch, might not be enough time to go walking to your favorite restaurant and then walk back … these scooters have the potential to really reduce congestion in downtown,” he said.

Another benefit to these scooters is a reduced carbon footprint and reliance on typical methods of transportation.

When dealing with any sort of vehicle, safety issues are going to be a concern.

“These scooters go up to 18 miles-per-hour and if they are zipping in and out of pedestrians on these sidewalks, as you can imagine, that is a concern,” Thurston said.

There were also concerns of aesthetics or what Thurston called the visual clutter of scooters lining the sidewalks.

The scooter companies typically do not have scooter racks to store the vehicles, they are placed randomly on sidewalks for people to use at will.

The third concern Thurston had was the impediment to free access of the sidewalks.

Council reactions

Councilmembers had a mixed reaction towards the possibility of scooters in Wilmington. Concerns of scooters on the sidewalks led to more discussion of forcing them onto streets.

Councilman Charlie Rivenbark likened the scooter situation to that of skateboards in the 90s where skateboarding was banned in areas.

“We passed ordinances and then the bumper stickers came out that said ‘decriminalize skateboarding’ … I have never been one to want to pass an ordinance that you can’t enforce and that is going to be a difficult one to enforce,” he said. “If you force them out into the street then you create in my opinion an even bigger problem.”

Rivenbark said he thinks an outright ban of the scooters could be the way to go.

However, if and when Raleigh lawmakers do address the scooters as a whole, towns that have currently banned scooters outright could be forced to reverse their laws.

At the end of the presentation, City Manager Sterling Chetham told the council that at this time, unless instructed further, the city would not focus on regulations for these scooters and wait on the General Assembly to make their own decision.

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