Despite pushback from the Chattanooga City Council and concerns over safety, electric scooter companies that have seen success in bigger cities are still anticipating a move into Chattanooga.
Representatives from the scooter company Lime, which rents scooters in nearby cities such as Nashville and Atlanta, as well as 100 other cities around the world, attended a council agenda session Tuesday and addressed concerns from council members about the dockless scooters entering city limits.
In September, staff outlined proposed rules for those scooters, which include permit requirements, defined service areas, "robust" education for riders about safety and traffic rules and other regulations.
According to the city, scooter companies have approached them about setting rules in advance, which hasn't happened in other places across the nation. 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. Many municipalities have reported problems with dumped and junked vehicles, riders speeding along on sidewalks instead of streets and increased numbers of accidents.
Shari Shapiro, director of mid-Atlantic public affairs at Lime, told council members Tuesday in a presentation that she believes the scooters fit in with the 2016 Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency comprehensive plan in which residents voiced wanting more sustainable, transportation options.
Shapiro said Lime has already hired a director of operations for the Chattanooga area. She said all employees would be local.
"We want to work with you to find a way to bring these scooters to Chattanooga in a way that you are comfortable with and a way that is collaborative," Shapiro said to the council.
Lime scooters cost $1 to unlock and rent for 15 cents per minute with 30 minutes costing just under $5. When fully charged, the scooters can travel up to 33 miles, Shapiro said. The scooters are also GPS-enabled and require the user to download an app and upload their credit card information before use. A rider has to be at least 18 years of age.
Shapiro said the company would ideally roll out about 100 scooters in a pilot phase in the downtown business district. The scooters could only be taken on bike paths and sidewalks where bikes are also allowed, according to proposed rules already drafted by the city.
Council members asked several questions with councilman Darrin Ledford voicing the most concern over the scooters — mostly over the "dockless nature" of the scooters and how they could be left anywhere, including in the middle of the sidewalk or street.
"Our bike share program is wonderful — it's organized and structured," he said. "This randomness, I'm sorry, that scares me about leaving them wherever."
Shapiro said scooters that could only be ridden from one dock to another present a barrier for people trying to use it as an alternative transportation if where they really need to go doesn't have a dock.
Ledford also asked if they could be put on "sleep mode" and only used at certain hours of the day, but Shapiro said she would have to research if that was possible.
While some may consider the e-scooters a fad, larger companies like Ford and Uber don't seem to think so with their purchase and partnerships of scooter companies and Lyft's recent expansion into the Nashville e-scooter scene, as well.
Representatives with Bird, another popular scooter company and one of Lime's main competitors, attended the meeting but didn't present to council members. Bird is also in over 100 cities with Nashville being one of the first 10 markets they moved into shortly after starting just a year ago.
"Chattanooga has a history of being an early innovator, embracing visionary new ideas that help support the local economy and improve residents' way of life," a Bird spokesperson said in an email. "Bird hopes to collaborate with city officials so that we can serve the people of Chattanooga very soon."
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.