The Durham City Council on Monday night unanimously approved rules governing the use and operation of motorized scooters in the city, but it will be at least a month before they hit the streets.
Updates to the city’s Shared Active Transportation Ordinance — which also covers bike shares — came after weeks of chewing over exactly how the devices should be regulated given the parameters of state law.
Electric scooters haven’t been deployed yet in Durham, although some have been spotted around town. Lime scooters were spotted in Durham Sunday morning by council member Charlie Reece, but in an email a Lime employee said they were likely mistakenly dropped there by a “juicer” — who collects and charges the scooter nightly — that lives nearby. The company said the scooters would be collected immediately.
The devices have popped up all over the country and many cities have banned them believing they would create hazardous conditions. E-scooters were dropped in Raleigh before that city was able to get an ordinance on the books, but so far companies that have expressed an interest in deploying scooters in Durham have held off knowing the city was working on these rules. Raleigh is expected to consider regulations Tuesday.
Scooter users in Durham will have to be at least sixteen and wear a helmet. Additionally, they’ll have to ride on the street because of a city ordinance that prohibits operating bicycles or vehicles on sidewalks.
Before they voted Monday, council members discussed how to make the technology more accessible to more people in Durham. The ordinance asks companies to “implement programs to reduce barriers” for low-income people and people without credit cards, and directs them to deploy devices in low-income census tracts.
Additionally, they want to make sure not having a driver’s license isn’t a barrier to use, and that companies that require an ID also take Faith IDs, passports and consular IDs. Bird employees on hand said the company currently only takes driver’s licenses, although at a previous meeting a spokesperson said a rider could snap a photograph of any government ID with a birthday to unlock their first ride.
“We will be looking for your company, Lime, whoever else is in the market to be doing this work so that anybody no matter their identification or immigration status is going to be able to use these,” Mayor Steve Schewel said to Bird representatives at the meeting.
Bryan Poole, a city transportation planner, said the next step is for city staff to draw up a permit applications — which could include more requirements to accommodate language access, for example. Poole estimated that could take about a month, and then companies would be invited to apply, at which point the city could determine how many scooters companies will be allowed to deploy.
Poole said the city has already “heard directly” from three companies who want to put scooters in Durham, and others are interested.
Last month, the city considered a proposal that would have defined electric scooters as mopeds under North Carolina law. Mopeds have to have a registration and a license plate, but operators don’t need a license or a title. The council delayed a vote on that language until it could get input from the police department and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
In the meantime, the city decided to forgo any mention of mopeds from the ordinance, removing any debate over whether scooters are in fact mopeds and making room for changes to state laws governing vehicles. Since the previous language was written, Shea Denning, a public law and government professor at UNC wrote a blog post on the UNC School of Government’s website that concluded motorized scooters are not mopeds under state law.
Instead, the ordinance defines motorized scooters as “a vehicle that is steered by a steering handle, designed to be stood upon by the operator while the vehicle is in operation, and powered by a motor capable of propelling the vehicle at a speed no greater than 18 miles per hour on a level surface; and whose wheels have diameters of ten inches or less.”
Still, all shared transportation devices covered by the ordinance “shall comply with the applicable equipment and vehicle registration requirements of Chapter 20 of the General Statutes.”
The Durham Police Department says it will “address violations of the law that present an obvious and immediate risk to public safety” but “does not anticipate being the primary agent for the regulation of these devices.”
Removing the word moped doesn’t make much of a practical difference. In order to be operated on roadways in North Carolina, vehicles (including mopeds) have to have lights, mirrors and inflatable tires as well as license plates.
The change leaves it up to the state to determine what type of vehicle mopeds are, and in turn how they should be regulated.
Bird, a company that has been in conversation with the city about the ordinance and has scooters deployed in Raleigh, previously told the INDY its devices had inflatable tires and lights, but not mirrors or license plates.
“This modification does not mean that a motorized scooter could not still be considered a moped by the NCDOT or NCDMV,” a staff memo reads ” … Assuming that future legislative changes may be made to the definition of motorized scooters, or NCDOT and NCDMV are able to make an interim determination of how best to categorize these devices under current law, the SATS ordinance should not have to be modified or updated.”