City Council members moved Chattanooga one step closer to being the next city with electric scooters in the downtown area at their meeting Tuesday night.
The City Council approved a revised dockless bicycle and electric scooters ordinance in a first reading, with council members Anthony Byrd, Demetrus Coonrod, Russell Gilbert, Jerry Mitchell and chairman Erskine Oglesby voting in favor of it and Chip Henderson, Darrin Ledford and Ken Smith voting against it. Council member Carol Berz abstained from the vote.
Ledford and Smith were the most vocal opponents of the ordinance. They said they didn't like the headlines that appear when researching electric scooters online, which include stories about cities banning them and hospitals seeing an increase in injuries.
"It's one of those things where it sounds like a great idea, but nobody seems to have found the best way to implement this idea in a small, tight urban area, and for that reason, I will not be supporting this ordinance this evening," Smith said.
The ordinance — if the council approves it after its second reading Tuesday — 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 it.
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 the past six months. Many municipalities have reported problems with dumped and junked vehicles, riders speeding along on sidewalks instead of streets and increased numbers of accidents.
"I admire innovation, I admire the entrepreneurial spirit and I cherish free enterprise and freedom of mobility," Ledford said Tuesday. "I admire the freedom to choose. I also admire the common sense that God gave us to think ahead and see potential hazards, especially when danger and safety of children are at risk."
Ledford said the ordinance didn't have a minimum age limit for children operating a scooter, but it does state that children under 12 years old must have parental or guardian consent to ride. He stated any child with their parent's credit card could ride it, though, and they would be no match on the roads if coming in contact with a bigger vehicle.
At one point, Ledford compared the scooters to the Woodmore Elementary School bus crash. Councilman Gilbert said that while the bus crash was tragic, it has nothing to do with the dockless vehicles and scooters.
Gilbert and other council members who voted in favor of the ordinance said they would help college students who have no other form of transportation. Council member Mitchell moved to amend the ordinance so no one under age 14 could ride the scooters, which was approved.
The 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 state line to the south.
Oglesby is sponsoring the ordinance, and much of the approved dockless vehicle zone falls in his district of Alton Park, East Lake, downtown and St. Elmo.
Representatives from Lime and Bird — e-scooter companies that have expressed interest in coming to Chattanooga — have business licenses issued by the city, but they would still need to obtain dockless system permits.
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 used by residents and tourists.
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 could be used wherever a bicycle is allowed. While helmets are encouraged, the ordinance states, they are not required unless a rider is under 16. With the amendment from Tuesday's meeting, no one under 14 could ride the scooters.
Scooters must be parked upright and not 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 public transit stations, disabled parking spots, curb ramps, building entrances and more.
There is an education component in the ordinance that states companies must educate riders on the city's rules and regulations for dockless vehicles. All companies must have a Chattanooga-specific website that educates riders on those 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 expressed wanting the scooters for employees or customers.
Contact Allison Shirk Collins at email@example.com, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.