By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
Gilbert officials want to regulate the black, electric scooters that are popping up all over town – even on the vice mayor’s front lawn.
Bird, a dockless scooter-share company based in Santa Monica, California, has deployed its rentable scooters at sidewalks and other areas in Gilbert.
Now, Gilbert is joining a growing chorus of East Valley and other municipalities that want to regulate their use – and where they can be dumped. The Town Council will discuss regulating scooters at its next meeting Dec. 20.
“The scooters are not sponsored in any way by the town, and Bird does not have an agreement with the town or permit to allow such operations and encroachments,” spokeswoman Jennifer Alvarez Harrison said.
“Staff plans to go before council to discuss a potential update to the code to address public safety concerns and other issues raised by such alternative transportation business models,” she added.
Vice Mayor Brigette Peterson at a recent Planning Commission meeting complained that she woke up one morning to find two scooters discarded on her front lawn.
According to Alvarez Harrison, town code currently allows electric scooters to operate only on public streets with posted speeds less than 25 mph. The regulation applies to scooters on public property only.
Gilbert is not the only Valley municipality wrestling with the onslaught of the on-demand scooters that require a smartphone app, credit card and driver’s license for use.
Tempe, which is inundated with hundreds of scooters along Mill Avenue, is on the verge of approving a new series of regulations early next year.
Mesa City Council is scheduled to review a potential ordinance early next year.
Arizona State University has already banned them from its Tempe campus.
Only Chandler is taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the growing popularity of bikeshare and “scootershare” programs.
“At this point nothing has been presented to council,” said Chandler spokeswoman Stephanie Romero. “However, staff is currently researching what other cities have done regarding scooters and bikes and what’s worked for them.”
Scottsdale adopted new regulations governing both rental bikes and scooters in the face of complaints by business owners who kept finding them abandoned in front of their shops and galleries.
While Tempe officials want to control the scooters, they don’t want to eliminate them – viewing them as helpful in reducing the number of cars, especially on crowded Mill Avenue, and curbing emissions.
“We want the scooters here. It really adds to our multi-module transportation system,’’ said Tempe spokeswoman Tai Anna Yee. “We just want them to be safe.’’
But the vehicles got a less favorable reception at a Mesa council study session earlier this month, as Councilman Mark Freeman asked City Manager Chris Brady to report on how scooters are a benefit to the city and whether it would be possible to ban them.
Freeman, a retired paramedic with the Mesa Fire Department, worries about inexperienced riders getting hit by cars and suffering serious injuries.
“Inexperienced riders really bother me,’’ Freeman said. “I see young people 12, 13 years old riding these. They are riding on sidewalks.’’
Mesa Transportation Director R.J Zeder outlined how the city’s streets were not designed to accommodate scooters.
Zeder said there have been problems with scooters blocking sidewalks and being left on private property.
“The roadway system was not designed with scooters in mind,’’ Zeder said. “With an inexperienced user, at 15 mph, that can create safety problems.’’
The scooter-mania can be traced to the launch last year of Bird Rides Inc. in Santa Monica, Calif., Bloomberg News reported earlier this month. Bloomberg said investors pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Bird and Lime, helping a new industry gain a foothold.
Bird describes 100 cities on its website, stretching from Los Angeles to Vienna, Austria, including Tempe and Mesa, as partners in combatting carbon emissions and traffic congestion. The website includes endorsements from city officials in Cleveland and New York City.
Taylor Strand, who represents Razor Scooters, said she “unequivocally supports” the regulatory framework cities are putting in place.
Joshua Miller, a general manager for Lime in the Phoenix area, said he wants to work with cities on regulations. He recommended an annual fee based upon the number of trips per vehicle.
He said the company started with rental bicycles, but the market in the East Valley has evolved toward scooters.
“The bikes were fun, but we are seeing a decline in popularity,’’ Miller said, with the bicycles still used in Scottsdale but hardly at all in the East Valley.
He said one major difference is that the scooters require little or no exertion because they are motorized.
“The scooters are really easy to ride,’’ Miller said. “That’s what we see the public is more prone to ride.’’
Scottsdale’s council adopted its new rules Nov. 13. They regulate bicycles, electric bicycles and what the city calls “dockless electric mini-scooters.”
The ordinance requires that devices are operable and used, and prohibits owners from leaving any bike, electric bike or scooter in the same place on public property for 72 hours. Devices must also be picked up within two hours of owners being notified they are inoperable.
In Scottsdale, violations could result in impound and a fine between $50 and $1,000 depending on the number of violations.
Similarly, the ordinance allows Class 1 and Class 2 electric bikes – which can operate up to 20 mph – on sidewalks and multi-use paths. Class 3 bikes, which have higher top speeds, would only be allowed on roadways.
Earlier this year, Seattle out of safety concerns banned the motorized two-wheelers from its streets and San Francisco reportedly banned electric scooters from its streets until rental companies obtain a city permit.
GSN staff writers Jason Stone and Jim Walsh contributed to this report.