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Macon may fire a preemptive strike before a wave of scooters hit the streets

Macon leaders ban companies from renting out dockless scooters

Macon-Bibb County banned companies from renting out “dockless vehicles” while it looks at ways to regulate them. Athens-Clarke, county leaders banned companies from renting out electric-powered scooters for 12 months.
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Macon-Bibb County banned companies from renting out “dockless vehicles” while it looks at ways to regulate them. Athens-Clarke, county leaders banned companies from renting out electric-powered scooters for 12 months.

Atlanta slapped restrictions on them. Athens-Clarke County was blindsided by them. Decatur placed limitations on them.

Now, Macon-Bibb County officials may take a preemptive strike against large numbers of dockless vehicles, such as electric scooters, possibly invading the sidewalks and streets here.

An ordinance temporarily banning companies from renting out the electric-powered scooters and bicycles is up for vote at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

The move would offer Macon officials a chance to deal with the burgeoning industry, either through regulations or a permanent ban.

“Taking no action will result in one day scooters showing up on our sidewalks,” said Commissioner Virgil Watkins, who is sponsoring the ordinance.

A ban would impact businesses who want to rent the electric powered dockless vehicle. It would not affect people who have purchased electric scooters for personal use, such as Materra “Matrix” Drafts , owner of Recess Bar & Lounge, who can be spotted riding her scooter around downtown Macon.

Drafts said she understands why there would need to be regulations on rental scooters, but said there are benefits to using them to get around.

“I can fold it and walk inside a building rather than just cluttering the sidewalks,” she said. “The convenience, especially with me working and living downtown, is crazy.”

The Bike Walk Macon group, which promotes alternative forms of transportation besides cars, is watching the progress of the ordinance.

Some of the questions Macon-Bibb commissioners could grapple with involve permits, how penalties would be assessed on users and operators and where the vehicles can be operated and dropped off, officials said.

Touted as environmentally friendly alternative modes of transportation, dockless vehicles have become popular in many urban areas and college campuses across the nation.

That popularity of the industry is evident by two of its larger businesses, Bird and Lime. Bird rents its vehicles in well over 100 cities while Lime saw the number of trips taken increase from 1 million in 2017 to 26 million by the end of 2018, according to their websites.

Macon-Bibb leaders say they would like to follow the examples of places like Athens-Clarke County where commissioners banned companies from renting out the scooters for 12 months until regulations are created.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Jerry NeSmith says officials in his county were caught off-guard late last year when hundreds of electric scooters were suddenly left on sidewalks.

In Athens, the scooters, rented from Bird, were primarily used around downtown and on the University of Georgia campus, NeSmith said.

UGA responded by confiscating nearly 1,100 Bird scooters and have charged the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in impound fees and fines, NeSmith said.

“One of the things we want ... is to distribute the scooters in an equitable manner so that they’re in neighborhoods where people need this alternate form of transportation rather than in dense areas where (dockless rental companies) can maximize their profits,” he said.

Regulation efforts ramp up

The Georgia Municipal Association has been meeting with industry representatives to help craft some definitions for state law related to electric scooter and bike rentals.

“The meetings have been going well, everyone involved is interested in finding solutions that work for both the companies and cities,” GMA spokeswoman Amy Henderson said in an email. “Overall, cities’ concerns center around safety, blocked sidewalks and liability.”

Some Georgia cities have already enacted regulations, including Atlanta and Decatur.

Decatur now requires a company to have an operating agreement with the city or their scooters will be banned.

The Atlanta City Council approved an ordinance on Monday that includes a $12,000 permitting fee for up to 500 vehicles, sets a 15 mph speed restriction and lays out where the vehicles can be ridden.

“We’ll probably be working on something similar to Atlanta,” Watkins said about Macon-Bibb. “Atlanta has provided decent guidance.”

Bike Walk Macon supports companies that would offer the shareable dockless vehicles, although more work is needed to improve the infrastructure, its Executive Director Rachel Hollar said in an email.

“Bike Walk Macon has been and will continue to work with Macon-Bibb County and emerging mobility companies to advocate for safe infrastructure on our streets, like bike lanes and crosswalks, that would improve safety and conditions for everyone on the street,” she said.

“Currently, Macon is lacking adequate facilities for people who walk and bike, and I hope the new interest from the scooter company will encourage Macon-Bibb County to improve our streets to accommodate all users -- pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and drivers,” Hollar said.

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