What’s Next with the Scooters?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018, 7:42 am
By: 
Jessy Gregg

Now that winter weather is upon us, ELi thought it was time to check in with City Hall and two scooter rental companies about the electric scooters which have been operating in East Lansing for the last three months.

There are two companies offering electric scooters for rent in the area. Bird dropped their scooters in town without notice during MSU’s welcome week. Lime followed shortly after.

So far, both companies are operating in town without any specific local ordinance to govern their use. There was an understanding among City leaders that the scooters would be removed during the winter months, giving East Lansing officials a break to look at use patterns and ridership, and to determine what type of regulation, if any, might be appropriate.

But so far, they’re still here.

Some limitations for use have been dictated by the State of Michigan through laws governing “electric skateboards.” Riders on a sidewalk must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. Riders under age 19 must wear a helmet.

State law also limits top operating speed to 25 mph. Both Bird and Lime have set a top speed of 15 mph on their scooters. At a recent Council of Neighborhood Presidents meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann suggested that he might like to see them further limited to 10 mph or lower in the downtown area.

A major source of complaints regarding the “pay to ride” scooters is that they are frequently left in problematic locations, such as in a the “sidewalk cut” where they block wheelchair access to sidewalks.

MSU’s Police Department has taken a very strict line with the scooters, defining them as mopeds and impounding them when they are left anywhere except at a paid, metered parking space.

We checked back with Officer Doug Monette, who spoke with ELi previously, to make sure MSU’s policy hadn’t changed. He told us there are now 208 rental scooters in MSUPD’s impound lot.

We tried to contact both Bird and Lime to see how things are working out from their perspective, but only Bird responded.

“East Lansing and the Michigan State community have goals of reducing the number of cars on the road to cut down on carbon emissions and traffic congestion,” a Bird representative responded via email, “and Bird is proud to help communities achieve these sustainability goals.”

The response continued, “We have been so encouraged to see how quickly riders have embraced Bird as a last-mile solution that helps them more easily get around — without having to get in the car. We are partnering with the University to educate riders on the proper way to ride and park Birds on campus. We look forward to continuing our work with MSU and local officials to build a framework that supports safe, affordable, and accessible transportation options for everyone in the community.”

ELi also reached out to the members of the East Lansing City Council to find out if there was any movement towards regulation. Mayor Mark Meadow and Mayor Pro Tem Altmann did not return our request for comment.

Council Member Shanna Draheim told us that Council is currently discussing what the next steps will be regarding scooter regulation. Draheim said that she expects the Transportation Commission to weigh in.

Council Member Ruth Beier confirmed that the City is currently talking to the scooter companies about removing the vehicles from East Lansing for the winter, and Council Member Aaron Stevens forwarded copies of a letter recently sent to both companies by City Manager George Lahanas. In the letter, Lahanas asks that the scooters be removed from East Lansing’s public right-of-ways by December 16, which is the end of MSU’s fall semester.

“With the arrival of winter weather the City will be actively plowing and clearing roads, sidewalks and parking areas,” writes Lahanas. “The need for city plows to operate both on the roads and sidewalks of East Lansing leave no area for the parking the scooters. Additionally the winter conditions are clearly not conducive to the safe operation of scooters within the City.”

Lime did not respond to our inquiries, and Bird would not confirm any plans to remove the scooters at any specific time.

“Bird is extremely committed to the safety of our riders,” a representative replied to our query via email, “and so we take into account the weather conditions of each city where Bird is available. We have a team dedicated to closely monitoring all conditions, and they adjust our operations accordingly. This includes pausing our service when weather does not permit safe riding and can sometimes lead to removing Birds from the road during periods of inclement weather caused by storms or hurricanes.”

If you have feedback regarding the use of electric scooters in East Lansing, you can communicate with the Transportation Commission through Steve Roach, East Lansing Senior Engineer at sroach@cityofeastlansing.com, and with City Council at citycouncil@cityofeastlansing.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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