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Atlanta councilmembers: Dockless bikes, scooters are crucial, but regulation needed

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Other cities, such as San Francisco and Austin, have dabbled in more aggressive approaches

A photo of a man riding a Bird scooter on the highway
With the scooter’s top speed of 15 mph, at least he’s keeping up with Atlanta traffic.
Travis Salters/Emily Hoberman, via Atlanta City Council Twitter

Atlanta’s social mediaverse worked itself into something of a frenzy last week, as a photo circulated showing a man taking a leisurely cruise down Interstate 75—on a Bird scooter.

Bird, of course, is the hot, new dockless vehicle-sharing startup that peppered local city streets with its rentable rides in May.

Since the California-based company’s Atlanta debut, its electric scooters have been used for nearly 39,000 rides, according to 11 Alive.

During an Atlanta City Council work session Friday, local lawmakers declared Bird and its multiple dock-free vehicle-sharing competitors a crucial part of evolving Atlanta into a more multimodal (and less car-dependant) city.

The problem, however, is that some vehicle-share users either don’t know or don’t care about rules in place to prevent them from being a nuisance—or a safety hazard.

City councilmembers aim to change that.

Bird’s sleek two-wheelers, rentable via app and rideable up to 15 mph, have been spotted en masse on the Beltline and occasionally on much more dangerous terrain, such as an Atlanta freeway.

A city ordinance proposal drafted by Councilmembers Michael Bond, Jennifer Ide, Dustin Hillis, Matt Westmoreland, and Andre Dickens seeks to ensure Bird scooters and other small shareable vehicles are used in an “obstruction free” fashion.

Bird users, evidently, are not the only offenders. Vehicle-sharing companies have been sprouting like weeds recently, and options such as Lime bikes and scooters and Muving mopeds have also been found idle, crowding sidewalks and obstructing public rights of way.

a screengrab from the app, showing Piedmont Park is off limits.
The Bird app shows the “no-fly zones” in Atlanta.
Sean Keenan, via Bird app

As written, the councilmembers’ legislation would require vehicle-share program operators to pay for a special permit—the cost of which has yet to be decided—and maintain a minimum of $3 million in liability insurance.

The legislation also seeks to encourage helmet use and prohibit people from using these new transportation options while under the influence of intoxicants—which is surely already illegal.

The ordinance proposal has earned the support of commissioners from Atlanta’s public works, planning, and parks departments, according to the draft.

Be careful not to fall for the shenanigans of this City of Atlanta parody Facebook account.

Some cities, however, appear to be taking a more heavy-fisted approach.

San Francisco, for instance, temporarily banned shareable scooters after the city was inundated with similar problems. The municipal government is currently deliberating over which companies should be allowed operating permits.

Austin did the same thing, while also effecting “emergency rules” that dictate where and how to park dockless vehicles.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Bird is arguably the most misused platform thus far, but advocates for alternative transportation argue that booting the company and its counterparts is not the best recourse for issues that seem to occur wherever these companies set up shop.

A good longterm fix, as observers told Curbed’s national team, could be rethinking traffic systems to allow for more multimodal access, and to take more cars off the streets. Easier said than done, of course.

Councilman Bond said the legislation, after some tweaks, could be approved by the council later this year, according to 11 Alive.