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East Lansing’s City Council has unanimously passed an ordinance regulating “electric skateboards,” more commonly referred to as “scooters.” The ordinance covers the responsibilities for both the rental companies who operate the service and the riders who use the app-activated, pay-per-ride vehicles, and will result in income for the City.
Following recommendations from East Lansing’s Transportation Commission, Council Members decided not to include a provision prohibiting operation of the scooters on sidewalks.
But an amendment suggested by Council Member Ruth Beier to create a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit on sidewalks was adopted unanimously in a 4-0 vote. (Council Member Aaron Stephens was away on vacation.)
Police Chief Larry Sparkes explained, before the ordinance passed, that such a speed limit would be difficult to enforce.
Sparkes told Council, “If you’re in a patrol car and you have to pull over, park that [car], try to get out and make contact with somebody, they’re going to be gone” before an officer catches them.
Sparkes also explained that the ELPD’s radar speed-detectors weren’t designed to measure speeds of such small vehicles. According to Sparkes, officers on bicycles would be more effective, but ELPD doesn’t have bicycle officers on the street every day.
Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann said that he thought having the 10-mile-per-hour sidewalk speed limit was still useful because it communicated “to people that this is something we don’t allow.”
Under the adopted ordinance, scooter rental companies like Bird and Lime will be required to pay a $2,500-per-year licensing fee to operate within the City of East Lansing. According to City Attorney Tom Yeadon, that is the number that was supplied by the City Clerk as being “adequate to cover costs” of regulating the rental devices.
Scooter companies will also have to pay a 10-cents-per-ride fee for all trips that originate within the City of East Lansing, to be paid monthly to the City by the companies.
According to data supplied by Bird and Lime, there were about 75,000 trips in the Lansing region during the six-week period when scooters were deployed in East Lansing and Lansing. Although the companies didn't report how many of those rides originated in East Lansing, they do have the ability to determine this in the future, because the scooters are tracked via GPS and controlled by an app which riders must use to activate them.
With such a high use volume, the per-ride fees will in total be potentially much more lucrative than the annual licensing fee for the City of East Lansing.
Another provision under the “reporting requirements” section of the ordinance requires companies to report their user data to the City’s government, including trip volumes, distances, routes, and the starting and stopping points for each trip.
Scooters companies must also undertake to educate their users “about the rights of pedestrians including those with disabilities to travel unimpeded by electric skateboards whether in use or parked” as well as about “permissible parking locations, speed limits, safety equipment requirements and general courtesy.”
Some of that language was copied from an ordinance being considered in Lansing, on the suggestion of Council Member Shanna Draheim. Draheim emphasized that she considered a “regional” approach to be important.
Again borrowing from Lansing’s example, Draheim added a provision mandating that “after offsetting costs related to the permit process and enforcement of operational and parking restrictions, all fees collected under this section shall be allocated to fund programs consistent with the City’s ‘complete streets’ policy…so as to maintain and expand the City’s infrastructure and rights of ways utilized by electric skateboards.”
This amendment passed in spite of opposition from Altmann, who objected to “tying our hands” in regard to how that money was spent.
Rather than require that rental companies remove the scooters during winter months, as happened this winter, the adopted ordinance requires that scooters be removed during poor weather, as determined by the City Manager.
Altmann explained that this would give the City enough flexibility to have the scooters removed when needed, but would also allow for operation during the winter months when conditions were favorable.
Altmann also suggested that the scooters should be allowed to operate unrestricted in terms of overnight hours, but that proposed amendment was defeated by Draheim and Mayor Mark Meadows. Instead, the ordinance requires scooters to be removed from the streets between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
The two companies that were operating scooters in East Lansing last year, Bird and Lime, removed their vehicles on December 15 following a request from East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas. Scooters are expected to return to the East Lansing area on March 15.
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