One Columbus e-scooter aficionado is doing some community organizing – against heavy-handed government regulation that is starting to congest free-market efforts to provide alternative transit options.
Donovan O’Neil formed a group called Scooter Customers Organized to Oppose Temporary, Excessive Regulation, or appropriately enough, S.C.O.O.T.E.R.
O’Neil said he formed the grassroots group last week in response to Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther pitching regulations to govern dockless rental vehicles such as e-scooters, which have made a splash in the state capital.
E-scooter rental companies have faced such obstacles in other large American cities, including Nashville in May. In San Francisco in March, there were so many electric scooters that some called it “Scootergedden.” Officials wrote legislation requiring companies to get an operating permit.
The Bird Rides Inc. scooter company says it’s “pausing” its dump-distribution of rental scooters in Cleveland after a woman was killed by an allegedly impaired driver downtown while riding an electric scooter (apparently not a Bird scooter), The Plain Dealer said. Cleveland announced it was banning scooters until it can adopt regulations and a competitive bidding process. Cincinnati set its own regulations.
O’Neil said he wants to avoid such scenarios playing out in Columbus.
“I felt like it was appropriate to step up as a fan of this light-transit system to hold the line against future regulation and keep these in our great city.”
S.C.O.O.T.E.R. aims to prevent regulation of dockless ride-share e-scooters or bikes, educate on how to share the road and use the equipment, and promote the “many great places around C-Bus that are accessible and fun to experience using ride-share devices.”
Saying he is protecting e-scooter users, Ginther on Wednesday proposed legislation to crack down on e-scooters and dockless rental bikes. The legislation will be presented to Columbus City Council. He directed Public Service Director Jennifer Gallagher to implement limited emergency rules to regulate pedestrians and other mobility device users.
Regulations include locations where these devices may operate, such as keeping them on the roadways, and telling riders to yield to pedestrians and use bike lanes when possible.
While the safety regulations seem reasonable and common-sense, O’Neil said he hopes the city does not cite e-scooter riders more than cyclists. What would be unacceptable is mandating helmets for individuals over age 18 or saying e-scooters can only be used during daylight hours. His biggest concern is limitations on the numbers of dockless ride-share companies and devices.
Setting limits on numbers seems like a lot of regulation to throw at a new transit option, O’Neil said.
“I don’t like the direction this is going,” he said.
The regulations are not clear because the city has not posted much online, he said.
O’Neil said he is a new fan of e-scooters himself, having started renting them only about two weeks ago.
“I saw them pop up overnight,” he said. “These are cool, these are exciting, these are something the city of Columbus wants.”
Columbus needs downtown transit solutions, and O’Neil said he worries that needless regulations will stop this wave of innovations by limiting the number of providers and e-scooters with “arbitrary numbers.”
These rental e-scooters are fast, easy and efficient and half the price of car ride-sharing, he said.
“It gets you there just as quick or quicker,” he said.
He works downtown, and renting e-scooters gives him more options for getting around to grab lunch or hold business meetings around town without worrying about finding his car and paying for parking.
To promote his group, O’Neil said he has reached out to neighborhood commissions to speak and has started holding pop-up meet-and-greets at downtown coffee shops to chat with people.
“We engage with them and have a positive interaction,” he said.