IF YOU GO
What: Lime Electric Scooter Demo DayWhen: 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan 10Where: Miller Park, 910 Market St., Chattanooga, Tenn.
Electric scooter companies have been cautious about launching the newest mobility trend here in Chattanooga without rules set in advance by the city, but one company is allowing locals to test drive its scooters Thursday in anticipation of a public launch in the near future.
Lime will have a handful of its dockless electric scooters available at a demo Thursday evening at Miller Park, 910 Market St., from 5-7 p.m. Company representatives also will be providing information on how the scooters could provide a more affordable, environmentally friendly form of transportation for Chattanoogans.
While Lime representatives could not give an exact date for when the company plans to fully launch in Chattanooga, it could be in the coming weeks or months, said Sam Sadle, Lime's director of government relations and strategic development for Chattanooga.
"We are working hand in glove with the city to figure out how they will look in (Chattanooga)," Sadle said. "Right now, this is just an opportunity to give everyone a chance to try them."
City officials said there aren't any new updates on regulations for the scooters in Chattanooga since the Times Free Press last wrote about the issue in November, though.
"(Chattanooga Department of Transportation) worked with the Office of the City Attorney and members of the dockless mobility industry on a potential regulatory framework for these types of devices based on how they have worked in other cities," city spokesperson Richel Albright wrote in an email. "Currently, we are gathering input from city council and will defer to them on when and how they'd like to proceed."
Electric scooters have caused problems across the country - from dumped and junked vehicles, riders speeding along on sidewalks instead of streets and an increase in accidents and injuries. The city has proposed some rules, which include permit requirements, defined service areas, "robust" education for riders about safety and traffic rules, and other regulations, along with a $110-per-scooter annual fee, but city council members have yet to approve anything.
Both Lime and Bird, another popular electric scooter company eyeing Chattanooga, have been issued business licenses from the city and could set up the electrically powered vehicles immediately for rent if they really wanted. That was news to councilman Darrin Ledford though, who said Wednesday that he wasn't aware they had been issued licenses already.
He said the last time the council had discussed the issue was when a Lime spokesperson gave a presentation to council members in November. In places as far away as Los Angeles and as close as Nashville, rental scooter companies have revved up business before city governments even knew they were there.
"Honestly, outside of the presentation they gave to us, we haven't had a lot of discussion about it," Ledford said. "My research from across the country found they ask for forgiveness instead of permission then go back and pay fines."
In a statement last month, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance even urged riders to consider the insurance implications of operating a scooter before using one. They said most scooter companies carry liability insurance to protect themselves in case of an accident but it doesn't cover the operator of the scooter.
"Scooter rental services have made navigating urban areas even easier, but they also come with insurance implications if you are in an accident," said Julie Mix McPeak, TDCI commissioner and National Association of Insurance Commissioners President. "We urge Tennesseans to evaluate their insurance coverages before riding a scooter."
TDCI offers some safety tips, like never operating a phone while riding them, always wearing a helmet and remembering that it is illegal to ride on sidewalks in most cities, however in Chattanooga it is allowed.
There is no helmet law in Tennessee except for riders under 16 years old. Electric scooter riders must be at least 18.
To use a Lime scooter, riders would first download a phone app and fill in their credit card information. The scooters cost $1 to unlock and are 15 cents per minute after that with 30 minutes costing just under $5. When fully charged, the GPS-enabled scooters can travel up to 33 miles.
When a rider is done, they set the scooter in a safe place out of the way of cars and people and take a picture of it for the next rider to find on a map and/or for the company to make sure that the scooter was left in a safe place.
Sadle said there's a 50 percent reduction in cost for people on state and federal subsidies in order to make the scooters an affordable, alternative form of transportation for everyone. For people without a smartphone, there is a "text-to-unlock" feature, too. Riders can also choose to pay with cash by going to a PayNearMe location.
Lime has scooters in 100 other cities around the world. The scooters would likely be phased in and centered around the downtown area, Sadle said.
"Our goal is to have exactly the right amount of scooters exactly where people need them," he said. "No more or no less."
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk Collins at [email protected], @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.