Decatur City Commission pushes forward with plan to regulate e-scootersPhoto provided to Decaturish.
This week the Decatur City Commission began the process of regulating e-scooters within city limits, despite protests that the regulations under consideration would drive the scooter companies out of Decatur.
Commissioners discussed the topic at length during their Dec. 17 meeting and authorized the city manager to negotiate agreements with these companies. The agreement will not necessarily look like the draft attached to the Dec. 17 meeting agenda, Mayor Patti Garrett said.
“Agreements can be altered during negotiations,” Garrett said. “We have authorized the City Manager to negotiate interim agreements that are ‘substantially similar’ and we will rely on her judgement in negotiating the terms that might need to be altered or tweaked a bit.”
The city is interested in regulating where scooters can be parked, the number of scooters allowed by each company and assessing a fee for their operation in Decatur. For a full list of ideas under consideration, click here.
A representative for Lime, one of the two major scooter companies that have moved into the city limits, told the commission, “Many of the regulations you all have put forth would make it nearly impossible for us to work within city limits.”
Other people who addressed the commission during public comments voiced similar concerns.
Tonio Andrade, a local cycling advocate, said the scooters are an opportunity for the city that leaders should embrace.
“These are not just toys,” he said. “It is a possible solution to the problem your citizens are talking about all the time. We have too much traffic.”
He cautioned the city against taking steps that would make these companies decide not to do business in Decatur.
“We need to be very careful about what kind of costs we impose on them,” he said. “I hope you work with the companies to find something to help them stay in business.”
Not everyone was supportive of the companies’ plans.
George Chidi, a local politician and journalist who is also a regular guest on the Decaturish podcast, wore a cast to the meeting, the result of a recent accident on a scooter that resulted in a broken arm. He said the city needs better data on how many scooter-related accidents are occurring in the city to get a better sense of how they should be regulated. Chidi said the scooter companies are flooding the market without heed for the potential risks posed by their products.
“They’re moving fast because they have a financial interest in getting things done as quickly as we can,” Chidi said. “As stewards of the public trust, it’s on you to slow things down.”
A spokesperson for the Decatur Police Department confirmed the city currently does not track accidents involving e-scooters.
City Commissioners said they did see the potential in the scooters, but said they had a responsibility to regulate their use within city limits.
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers said the City Commission was doing the scooter companies a favor by providing a model agreement that could be duplicated by other cities instead of banning them outright. He said the scooter companies are avoiding taking the steps other businesses take when they open. City officials were not notified before the scooters began appearing on city streets in recent months.
“We’re doing your legal work for you,” Powers said. “Who’s going to start a business and say, ‘I’m going to just open up a donut shop.’ What makes Bird or Lime or anyone else exempt? We want them to play by the same rules everyone else has.”
Commissioner Scott Drake also had concerns about how the companies made their way into Decatur.
“My biggest surprise is these companies never came and talked to us,” Drake said. “That, to me, shows a little bit of a lack of common sense right there, to deploy something in a city that they know is going to be used. We all get business licenses. We work under regulations. I find it interesting that didn’t happen.”
City Manager Peggy Merriss said liability is another important consideration for the city.
“Most folks, when they hit the app [to rent the scooters], they waive any liability against Lime or Bird,” Merriss said. “They don’t waive any liability against the city of Decatur. That’s an important thing we have to take into account.”
If the scooter companies don’t negotiate with the city, the commission will consider an ordinance banning their use within city limits.
Editor’s note: This story was reported by viewing a live video stream of the Dec. 17 City Commission meeting.