Richmond Squats on Scooters

Shared bicycle services OK in Richmond. (Photo credit Style Weekly).

Bird Rides, Inc., a California startup, tried introducing electric scooters to Richmond’s transportation mix, scattering the two-wheelers around Virginia Commonwealth University and the downtown area. Anyone downloading an app could ride them at a cost of $1 to unlock and 20 cents per minute to ride. Workers with the city’s Department of Public Works began rounding up the scooters Thursday, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Shared scooter services, not OK in Richmond. (Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The reason? Bird Rides didn’t ask for permission first.

“The City of Richmond was not engaged in any way, as required, with respect to deployment of the scooters,” said city spokesman Tom Byrnes. “As such, Bird is being advised we will be removing them, effective immediately.”

Richmond isn’t the only city to butt heads with Bird Rides, which has pursued an act-first-ask-for-permission-later approach. San Francisco and Denver have shut down the scooter service for not having a permit.

It’s not clear from the Times-Dispatch article, however, that Bird Rides needs a permit in Richmond. Byrnes did not say precisely how the company was “required” to engage with the city. I find the vagueness of his comment troubling. Does the city code require scooters — which have never seen widespread use in the city before — to be registered or licensed? How are the electric-powered, two-wheeled scooters different from bicycles in that regard? Are electric-powered bicycles subject to the same restrictions?

Here is one city policy regarding bicycling that I could find online: “The City of Richmond does not have a local ordinance prohibiting bicycling on sidewalks. BUT, if riding on a sidewalk you must yield to pedestrians, and should ride slowly. Colliding with motorists at intersections is a leading cause of crashes because motorists aren’t expecting a bike entering the crosswalk at high speed, especially when travelling against traffic.”

If it’s legal to ride a bicycle on city sidewalks, surely it would be legal to ride a scooter on sidewalks.

Which raises another question: Is it illegal to ride scooters on city streets? Of course it isn’t. City policy promotes bicycle riding. If bicycles are legal on streets, why wouldn’t scooters be, too?

Yet another question: Do bicycle ride-sharing companies require city licenses to operate? If so, I suppose a case could be made by analogy that a scooter-sharing service would, too. Needless to say, Bird Rides attorneys will be reviewing the code to see if the shutdown is legally supported.

From a pure public policy perspective, the city’s impoundment of the scooters looks unjustified — a bureaucratic assertion of power. The city should be encouraging a wide range of transportation alternatives — not just bicycles, but electric bikes, Segways, scooters, and whatever else human ingenuity can deny. True, there may be public safety issues involved with the use of scooters on streets and sidewalks, so some kind of public oversight may be justified. But I’d like to see evidence of a problem and a full and open hearing of the issues before city officials arbitrarily shut down a promising transportation alternative.

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5 responses to “Richmond Squats on Scooters

  1. Certainly the City has jurisdiction over public space (streets and sidewalks and alleys) and therefore over someone wishing to build a bike vending station on that public space. The response may be wrong but I’m glad the City is clamping down on random use of sidewalks by vendors.

    Of course, that said, there are activities to encourage and those to discourage. Unfortunately cities generally hate to disturb the status quo, unless it’s through a lavish City-managed venture the politicians can claim credit for. To buck that trend requires an Uber, or a Lyft, or a Bird Rides that pushes the envelope by developing a vocal constituency first, THEN tackling the bureaucracy. I hope Bird Ride’s constituency is both large and vocal.

  2. I just don’t think faster-speed wheeled conveyances whether electric or human powered should be mixed with people on foot including those who are using canes, walkers, strollers, etc…

    However – these wheeled devices are often too slow to mix with bikes in bike lanes…. so it’s a conundrum… of .. accommodation !!!

    One thing is for sure – when Govt created sidewalks- and then roads for horses/wagons, – they had no idea how diverse mobility would evolve to be…. and to this day – it’s still a challenge to try to accommodate the dozens of myriad options for people to be mobile!

  3. Segways are allowed in many areas, including Virginia, on streets, sidewalks, and paths. They are much more dangerous and take much more room than a scooter does. But Segway lobbied and Bird did not. Nasty stuff.

  4. not legal in NYC…. ” “Motorized self-balancing devices, such as Segways, hoverboards, and other ‘personal transporters,’ are prohibited in New York City by New York State law,”

    And I’d suspect that on any given sidewalk – it might matter what the ratio of Segways was to regular pedestrians – probably true with other “personal transporters”.

    In other words if you just have one or two Segways and a bunch of people on foot – it would probably work but say you had a bunch of them … say half of the folks were on Segways and half on foot… that would probably get dicey.

    I’ll admit – one could say the same thing about baby strollers or wheelchairs or people on crutches…mobility scooters, etc.. I do note that some places do outlaw strollers and other bulky wheeled transporters and anyone who’s ever been to the grocery store – knows what happens when too many mobility scooters end up in the same aisle! 😉

    In terms of “dangerous”, I would think just about any “vehicle” – even a bike or mobility scooter or other – if not operated properly could threaten others – especially others who have physical limitations with their own mobility.

    My father-in-law who had a stroke and wanted a mobility scooter was turned down because of concerns that he could not control it well enough to keep from running into others and that went for the golf cart that IS allowed on some streets… by people who are competent in operating them although I don’t know what the rules are…

    Heck – for that matter – there are places in Virginia that allow horse and buggies on the roads ….. for Mennonites and others…

    A lot of these issues are “finessed”… in many places… other places like NYC have fairly firm rules …

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