Electric scooters for Uptown? Columbus council considering trial period with 300 devices

Electric scooters could soon come to the city for a trial period pending a vote by Columbus Council.

Scooter rental company Lime proposed placing 300 scooters in the Uptown area for a period of 90 days. That way, city officials and the business owners can measure the success of the personal transportation devices.

Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance to place a moratorium on the use of shared electric scooters. That means no scooter business can obtain a business license and begin operating in the city unless approved by council for a trial period.

If council allows Lime to come to the city for a trial period, creating an ordinance to regulate similar businesses would be the goal for the city, while Lime would be gauging if there is enough interest and usage by the citizens of Columbus to make placing the scooters here permanently a smart business investment.

Nima Daivari, Lime’s community affairs manager for the state of Georgia, told council on July 9 that Columbus was not originally on the company’s radar for 2019 and 2020, but after getting in touch with Uptown Columbus President Ross Horner, he wants to work with the city on the test run.

“We want to get this 90 day proposal to a place (where) our operations team says it does make business sense to come to Columbus,” Daivari said.

Horner said Uptown has not taken an official stance on the issue, but had Lime bring a few scooters in March for members of the community to test. He said he’s excited about the potential test period because it would not only show the city if scooters could work, but also if test periods themselves could work for future situations.

“Alternative transportation, micro-mobility, is not a fad,” he said. “Scooters are not the start and end to it — we’re going to see so many things come out. Who knows where this technology or this idea goes.”

How it works

There are a few key things to know before jumping on a Lime scooter:

  • Users must download the app on their smart phone in order to locate and unlock a scooter.
  • In Georgia users must be 18 or older, and upload a photo ID.
  • It cost $1 to unlock the scooters and $0.29 per minute to ride. Discounts are available for those who accept state or federal assistance.
  • The scooters do not utilize docks, so they can be ridden from one location to another and left at the final destination.
  • Users are encouraged to follow local helmet laws and not ride the scooters on the sidewalk.
  • The scooters are electric and can go up to about 15 miles an hour.
Scooter trial 3
Columbus Council could soon vote to place a moratorium on electric ride share devices within the city to allow for a 90-day trial run with Lime, a company that would place 300 scooters in the Uptown area. Uptown Columbus

Though the scooters are not intended to be ridden on the sidewalk, many people argue that they do not feel safe riding them on the road, Daivari said.

Lime is also keeping tabs on where riders are going and how long they are riding with GPS technology, and can give that data to the city in combination with information from user surveys to help the city glean information about patterns in movement.

“Since day one we have shared all of our data freely with the college campuses and the cities in which we operate,” Daivari said. “We give the city a dashboard that they can log into to see the metrics.”

The data gathering aspect is something Horner said he’s very interested in.

“Being able to collect this data and being able to share that with potential businesses or corporations that want to come to town —that’s the kind of information we have trouble gathering and I think that’s exciting,” he said.

The information could be particularly valuable to groups such as those that have created the Dragonfly Trail, which is a trail of over 60 miles of connected pathways around Columbus. As well as the scooters potentially getting more people out using the trail, the data could help show which parts are being utilized most frequently and where connectivity is lacking.

“We talked to the PATH Foundation, (which) was very instrumental in the (Atlanta) BeltLine and they said ‘absolutely you need to have these be available on the Dragonfly and on the RiverWalk, it is absolutely important for these to be accessible for the public,’” Horner said.

City weighs pros, cons

During the July 9 meeting, Councilor Mimi Woodson, whose district encompass the Uptown and Historic Districts, said she wasn’t against a trial period but was concerned about how the scooters might disrupt neighborhoods.

“I think the scooter idea is perfect if you’re using it like in Uptown and the RiverWalk, maybe if there’s a straight shot going to the university and back. But going into the neighborhoods in the community, I have a problem with it,” Woodson said.

District 5 Councilor Charmaine Crabb, whose district includes the main Columbus State University campus, said the trial is a no-brainer.

“We have spent a lot of time building these bike trails and trying to convert our city into a walking, biking type of community,” she said. “We’ve set ourselves up for at least a trail of this magnitude. We need the 90 day trial to prove ourselves right or prove ourselves wrong. We need to be inclusive of the younger citizens.”

Mayor Skip Henderson also said he thinks it’s a discussion worth having.

“There’s a lot of apprehension,” he said. “But...we’ve worked very hard to create an infrastructure that provides connectivity, particularly for the new generation that’s coming along and doesn’t want to drive a vehicle everywhere. And we’ve got this infrastructure right now with about 70 miles of pathways; there’s got to be multi-modal uses on that, there should be a blend of pedestrians and other self-propelled devices.”

How it’s working elsewhere

Several metro cities including Atlanta and Athens have had their fair share of issues with companies “dumping” the scooters and leaving with no input from local leaders.

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Lime scooters could soon be available on city streets for a 90-day trial period, pending approval by council. Uptown Columbus

According to Columbus Planning Director Rick Jones, 14 Georgia cities have banned or are in the process of banning e-scooters, while six, including Atlanta, have either approved the scooters or are setting up regulations.

Columbus does not currently have any regulations for electric scooters, but Jones said that riding two-wheeled, battery-operated vehicles is allowed by ordinance on the RiverWalk, on the Follow-Me-Trail and the Fall Line Trace.

A bill proposed at the by the House this year during Georgia General Assembly would have prohibited parking scooters on sidewalks statewide, as well as allowing for the removal of devices parked in a dangerous manner. The bill has been put on hold.

Daivari said that outright banning scooters without trying them was a “backward” approach.

Lime is focused on first-mile and last-mile connectivity, he said.

“In Mexico City, 64.3% of our rides stop or start at a public transit station,” he said. “I know there isn’t a lot of mass transit here and that there’s limited bus service, so that would be a great way to sort of supplement the lack of service.”

Lime currently has scooters in Atlanta, Decatur and on the Georgia Southern University campus in Statesboro, according to Daivari. The scooters are currently only only campus but the city has shown interest in expanding across town.

Daivari said that in Atlanta, 40% of Lime riders reported using the scooters to commute to or from work or school on their most recent trip, and that 37% said their most recent scooter ride displaced a car trip.

Daivari also addressed a comment that 300 scooters sounds like a lot for a trial run.

“I assure you it’s not even close to enough to what you need to adequately service this city,” he said. “It’s going to be in the thousands.”

Allie Dean is the Columbus city government and accountability reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer, and also writes about new restaurants, developments and issues important to readers in the Chattahoochee Valley. She’s a graduate of the University of Georgia.