Sightseeing. A periodic tour of CVI news, views and events.

Atlanta Exploring Electric Scooter Regulations

An image of some electric scooters propped up on a telephone pole.

Submitted by Adam Hinchliffe

In recent months, Atlantans have found a new way to get around the chronically congested city by means of a sleek, lightweight scooter that can literally be picked up and dropped off anywhere, is cheap and easy to use, and is a realistic alternative to completing short trips without the need for a car, but still a bit too far for walking. You see them everywhere from the tree-lined streets of Inman Park to the busy sidewalks of Peachtree itself, and here lies the potential for serious injury or worse, critics say. Now, the Atlanta city council is looking at measures intended to ensure public safety without stifling a burgeoning mode of transport that has become very popular with city dwellers. These proposed regulations could also impact Atlanta pedestrians with vision loss as well, as the scooters pose an extra hazard because of their lack of noise and close proximity to people using white canes who may not always walk in a straight line requiring sudden stops or course corrections from scooter operators on sidewalks.

On November 13, the city council’s Public Safety Committee met downtown to seek public comment on a proposed ordinance that outlines where, when, and how these new scooters can legally operate. The event drew several citizens concerned about scooter operator and pedestrian safety as well as representatives from the two largest scooter companies operating in Atlanta, Bird and Lime, who expressed concerns about the permitting process and the cap of vehicles allowed under the ordinance they feel would nip expansion in the bud of a blossoming industry. The committee decided to hold the legislation and study it further before moving it on. The work session will take place sometime in December, and the public will again be invited to speak on any proposed changes. The current draft of the ordinance would prohibit scooter operations while on sidewalks throughout the city and would also prohibit parking near building entrances, transit stops, or where they may block pedestrian access along the sidewalk.

The struggle Atlanta faces is not unique in how to regulate this rapidly evolving form of transportation that in many cases has far outpaced current rules and regulations. Cities across America have either outright banned the vehicles or have put in place a temporary moratorium until the completion of a pilot program involving a single company and set number of scooters for study. Atlanta seems to be taking a wait and see approach as the city continues studying how these small vehicles impact the urban environment. Critics worry that the scooters traveling up to 15 mph on crowded sidewalks pose a threat to pedestrians and are a serious danger to scooter operators when riding on streets with other vehicles, in addition to riders simply leaving them on sidewalks and in building entrances once a trip is complete.

For now, these scooters will be a common sight on Atlanta streets and sidewalks. Atlanta hopes to ensure pedestrian safety while not hindering a new industry that has become an overnight transportation sensation. Electric scooters mark the latest flashpoint in the ongoing saga of technology rapidly outpacing government regulation, as has been seen with other forms of sharable transportation options like taxis and bicycles.