A proposed ordinance regulating use of motorized scooters stalled out in City Council last week, but the effort shouldn't die. While the scooters have ramped up the appeal of downtown, they've also created hazards that can't be ignored.
“I hesitate to use the two sides of the sword analogy, but this does have two sides,” said Michael Galbraith, president and CEO of the Downtown Improvement District. “On the positive side, it's bringing a ton of new people to downtown and the energy you can see as they are riding the scooters is really palpable. ... That part is great.”
Not so great, he said, are the safety issues and the nuisance factor – near-collisions with pedestrians and cars and discarded scooters blocking sidewalks.
“We're sort of torn on this one,” Galbraith said in an interview Wednesday. “I'm not sure if we're really serving the stated use of this being transportation. People who are using them seem like it's more of a ride – a fun exercise.”
The fun factor seemed to be the selling point for council members who voted no on the proposed ordinance, which would have banned riders younger than 18. It also would have prohibited tandem riding and set up a process to handle violations as infractions, similar to parking tickets. Fines related to riding would have been set at $50, increasing to $100 if unpaid after 30 days. The fine for blocking right-of-way with a parked scooter would be $100 per day.
Council member Sharon Tucker, D-6th, questioned the age restriction, which is in accordance with rental requirements established by VeoRide, the company contracting with the city for the pilot program. Tucker asked about younger teens.
“What else do they have to do in the community? If we take this away from them, and we're trying to bring them downtown, it's going to be even harder for them to have an activity,” she said. “We're always looking for a way to keep them active and to get into 'good trouble.' ”
Activated by a mobile phone app linked to credit card information, Veo scooters cost $1 to unlock and 15 cents a minute to operate. There are now 500 Veo-operated scooters in the city.
Fort Wayne Police Department worked with the city administration to develop the proposed ordinance, which was patterned after Bloomington's regulations. Sgt. Ben Messick said police officers have been asked to enforce guidelines for use of the scooters, which they can't do without a law on the books.
“Whether it's the best use of (our) time, I don't know, but downtown patrol, which I'm a part of, has been asked to do some regulation of the scooters,” he said.
Councilman Glynn Hines asked about accidents and complaints. Messick said incidents are recorded only if they result in a report.
“There are a lot of young people that are on scooters all over this community driving like bats out of hell,” Hines said. “It's kind of scary, to be honest.”
Galbraith said he's witnessed three accidents and knows of many near-misses.
“They are too fast for pedestrians and too slow for cars,” he said.
Hines and Tucker voted no on the proposal, along with council members Jason Arp, R-4th; Michelle Chambers, D-at large; Tom Didier, R-3rd; Paul Ensley, R-1st; and Tom Freistroffer, R-at large. Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and Geoff Paddock, D-5th, voted yes. Jehl was particularly critical of how the scooters and bikes are left lying around the city.
None of the council members seemed to be opposed to regulating the devices, disagreeing only on what the regulations should look like.
“There are appropriate ways to ride, and we're trying to put that into a set of rules here,” said Paul Spoelhof, senior planner with Fort Wayne's Department of Planning & Policy.
He said rules are needed even aside from the pilot program because some people are now buying their own motorized scooters to use as transportation.
Spokeswoman Angelica Pickens said Wednesday the city isn't currently planning to revisit the failed ordinance attempt, but that doesn't mean it won't. The first attempt at a scooter ordinance was a good one; it can and should be improved to meet council's concerns. Scooters and bikes are great additions to downtown, but they must come with respect for property owners and those who aren't riding.
Veo scooter or bike blocking the sidewalk?
Call VeoRide at 855-836-2256 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to report the problem. Report the vehicle's ID number (located on the handlebar) if possible, or the address where it can be found.