A majority of community leaders in Chattanooga and large cities statewide support downtown electric scooters, according to the latest Power Poll.
In a survey of business owners and chief executives, elected officials and other stakeholders, 50.6% of the 83 respondents from Chattanooga said they favor the use of electric scooters with guidelines (such as usage only in certain areas of town, limits on their total number of vehicles, required helmet use, or other such guidelines). Another 9.6% favor them without restrictions.
"Tennessee is a proud home for Bird, and we very much look forward to the day we can bring our low-cost, fun transportation solution to Chattanooga in particular," Sam Reed, director of government partnerships at prospective scooter company Bird, said Thursday. "We are engaged in regular conversations with Chattanooga officials and we hope to deepen those partnerships as the city looks to embrace e-scooters."
The Chattanooga City Council has been grappling since this spring with ways to provide oversight of scooter rental companies eager to set up shop in the city, seeking to form a "partnership" that would create a sustainable relationship between the companies and the city.
While an ordinance sponsored by Chairman and District 7 Councilman Erskine Oglesby — which would allow scooter companies to come to the city if they stayed within certain downtown areas, acquired licenses, gradually introduced their fleets and followed other requirements — passed on first reading, it failed due to a lack of a motion on second reading as some member of the council had qualms about safety and problems in other cities that have scooters.
"A lot of it was the safety factor and the way it was introduced in some cities across the city there was no regulatory or accountability to it," Oglesby said of the ordinance. "The difference about what's happened in Chattanooga is the scooter companies came to us and said they want to be good partners, so we're finding the right way to do this, where they just kind of came in overnight in some other cities."
The 39.8% of participants opposed to the scooters in Chattanooga is not a surprise after weeks of scooter discussion were met with concern from the public and several council members, especially as Nashville and other cities began to take issue with the safety of the scooters that were already in play. Recently, District 3 Councilman Ken Smith proposed a six-month moratorium on scooters to give council members time to decide what to do after state law gives municipalities the authority to restrict or ban scooter companies beginning July 1. The proposal to pause potential local decisions will go before the city's Economic and Community Development Committee Tuesday during the 3 p.m. council meeting and be voted on in the coming weeks.
With the scooters already introduced in Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, and under discussion in Chattanooga, the Power Poll showed similar numbers statewide, with 6% of respondents in favor of scooters with unlimited use, 62% in favor of them with restrictions and 32% opposed to them overall.
The poll also showed mixed reviews, but a stronger preference for their restricted use among leaders in Tennessee's other major cities.
Unlimited use came in at 4% in Knoxville, 21% in Memphis and 3% in Nashville, while use under guidelines garnered support from 64% in Knoxville, 65% in Memphis and 63% in Nashville.
Thirty-two percent of participants in Knoxville, 13% in Memphis and 34% in Nashville opposed the scooters altogether (Memphis response data only accounted for 99% of responses).
The Power Poll surveys people who either directly make, or tangentially influence, policy at the local, state and federal levels. It is composed of powerful influencers from a variety of professions, including non-profits, for-profits, government, media, sports, entertainment, and more. Statewide, 1,810 Power Poll members were surveyed; 665 responded. The poll is not a scientific survey.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.