This story was updated Wednesday, April 17, 2019, at 4:15 p.m. with more information.
After months of discussion, city staff presented a revised dockless bicycle and electric scooters ordinance to council members this week that councilman Erskine Oglesby said is the result of input from several different entities, including electric scooter companies.
The ordinance, when passed, would only be valid for 12 months and then city of Chattanooga officials could look at the impact of dockless bicycles and scooters in the city before renewing.
The revised ordinance could come before the council for a first vote as early as Tuesday, April 30 if council members don't have any further questions or concerns, Oglesby said. The final vote would be a week later.
The revised ordinance would require electric scooter companies that wish to launch in Chattanooga to first obtain a "Dockless System" permit from the city for a one-year pilot program. Scooters would only be allowed in the city's "Urban Overlay Zone," which is mostly downtown and stretches from Missionary Ridge on the east, North Chattanooga and Hill City to the North, the base of Lookout Mountain to the West and the Georgia stateline to the South.
Oglesby is sponsoring the ordinance, and much of the approved dockless vehicle zone falls within his district of Alton Park, East Lake, downtown and St. Elmo.
Each company could only launch 300 scooters initially during a one-month trial period with the chance to deploy more if they can prove to the city that the electric scooters are being utilized by residents and tourists.
Representatives from Lime and Bird — e-scooter companies that have expressed interest in coming to Chattanooga — did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Both companies have business licenses issued by the city, but they would still need to obtain a dockless system permit.
Oglesby said Wednesday that officials with each company have been receptive to the policy and have said "it's something they can work with."
Electric scooter companies have been cautious about launching the newest mobility trend here in Chattanooga without rules set in advance by the city. Chattanooga city council members have voiced several concerns about the dockless nature of electric scooters and the safety of them in recent months. Many municipalities have reported problems with dumped and junked vehicles, riders speeding along on sidewalks instead of streets and increased numbers of accidents.
"Right now, we are looking at how to make it a responsible program in our city, so we don't run into the things that have happened in other cities where they are haphazardly and irresponsibly used," Oglesby said. "It's about educating our constituents It's the people – not the scooters themselves – who have caused the problems."
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. There's a reduction in cost for those on federal and state subsidies.
Lime already has an operations manager in Chattanooga and has been eager to roll the scooters out in the city. They held a "Demo Day" for interested residents in January.
The dockless system permit requires the company to pay a $110 fee for each newly permitted dockless vehicle, which would cost a company $33,000 initially if launching 300 to begin. It would also require companies to share references from two other cities similar in size to Chattanooga before launching. The ordinance states the city would allow no more than three dockless vehicle companies to launch during the 12-month pilot period.
The electric scooters would not be allowed on sidewalks intended only for pedestrians, but may be used wherever a bicycle is allowed in the city. While helmets are encouraged, the ordinance states, they are not required unless a rider is under 16. Riders under 12 must have parental or guardian consent to ride.
Scooters must be parked upright and not parked in a manner to impede the right of way. Any scooter left for more than two days in the same spot could be removed. They may not block transit public stations, disabled parking spots, curb ramps, building entrances and more.
There is an education component in the ordinance toothat states companies must educate riders on the city's rules and regulations regarding dockless vehicles. All companies must have a Chattanooga-specific website that educates riders on these policies.
The permit requirements also state a company has to have a "business partner program" in place that shows businesses or entities in the downtown area have voiced wanting the scooters for employees or customers.
Oblesby said he wanted to emphasize the part of the ordinance that requires companies to provide "equitable access."
Companies would need to provide discount programs for low-income individuals, options that don't require smartphones, cash-payment options and "adaptive small vehicles" that people with disabilities could use, according to the ordinance.
"I believe that's very important," he said. "I want people to feel this program is for everyone. We want every area in our city that follows within that urban overlay to use these scooters."
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.