New Arkansas law means all cities must allow electric scooters

E-scooters at SXWS in Austin, Texas / Photo: Anthony Quintano

A new state law means Arkansas municipalities must allow electric scooter companies to set up shop on public property whether the cities and residents want them or not.

Act 1015, which goes into effect July 24, was passed on the last day of this year’s legislative session, and was apparently a reaction to some resistance in Fayetteville.

“Several months ago we were approached by a large company in the business of bike and scooter sharing who said ‘We’re about to drop several hundred scooters on your city so good luck’,” said Blake Pennington, Fayetteville’s assistant city attorney. “We asked them to hold off, but they didn’t like that so they did what any big national company does – they hired a lobbyist and found a friendly legislator who got a law passed that requires us to allow these scooters in our city.”

The new law was introduced as House Bill 1619, and was first sponsored by Rep. Grant Hodges (R-Rogers) and Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Clarksville).

Pennington said local legislator Rep. David Whitaker (D-Fayetteville) later signed on as a co-sponsor to help amend the proposal to allow cities to regulate e-scooters.

Pennington said Whitaker’s efforts were successful and cities now have the authority to establish “reasonable standards, rules, or regulations” regarding the use of e-scooters and how the provider companies operate.

For those unaware, e-scooters are different than the typical motor scooters that are used around town. They are more like an adult-sized version of a small children’s scooter that is stood upon and includes a tall handlebar. They weigh less than 100 pounds, are powered by an electric motor, and typically require an unlock fee and a per-minute fee for usage in other cities around the country.

The scooters have been the subject of controversy in some cities where people have been hurt or killed while riding them.

The new Arkansas law stipulates that operators must be at least 16 years old, and that the scooters not be allowed to move at a speed above 15 mph.

Scooters coming to Fayetteville

Fayetteville City Council members next week will consider a staff proposal on how to regulate the scooter fleets that are expected to hit the streets and sidewalks this summer.

Peter Nierengarten, the city’s sustainability director, outlined the proposed regulations during Tuesday’s council agenda-setting session.

Nierengarten said several of the rules were written internally, while others were taken from cities where e-scooter companies have already launched like Austin, Dallas, Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale.

Fayetteville’s proposal would limit the total amount of e-scooters that could operate within the city to 1,000. A permitting process would require each vendor to pay a $150 fee plus $20 per scooter every six months. Individual vendors would be limited to 250 scooters, but could increase their total to 500 after the initial six-month permit period ends. The revenue generated from the permits would be used to administer the program and to fund bicycle and scooter infrastructure improvements.

Users will not be allowed to ride the scooters on sidewalks that a building faces.

“If you can picture Dickson Street or our downtown square, we don’t want scooters zipping along so that someone stepping out of a building would be in the path of an oncoming scooter,” said Nierengarten. They could be ridden on other sidewalks where buildings are on a setback, he said, and also on roadways.

Nierengarten said parking is expected to be the most complained about aspect of the scooters, since other cities field lots of complaints about scooters that are either tipped over or left in inconvenient locations.

“I’m sure you will begin hearing about all that shortly after they appear here in town,” he told the council members on Tuesday.

Fayetteville’s proposal will require that the scooters be parked in a way that doesn’t impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic, and that doesn’t interfere with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They must be parked standing upright, and must not block transit shelters, commercial loading zones, railroad tracks, passenger loading zones, disability parking, street furniture, building entryways or vehicle driveways.

Fees will also be regulated. The per-minute charge is proposed to be no greater than one-fifth of the unlock charge. Typically, e-scooters cost about $1 to unlock and between 10-30 cents per minute to use.

Vendors will be required to provide access to the scooters to residents who don’t own a smart phone. The scooters must also be equipped with GPS technology that allows no-ride and slow-ride zones. For example, if the University of Arkansas wanted to designate areas where the scooters can only travel at 5 mph, the vendor would need to enforce that request through geofencing.

Council Member Sloan Scroggin said he’s not excited about seeing scooters around town.

“I literally avoid places that have these in other cities,” he said, adding that his biggest concerns were about safety.

Council member Matthew Petty said he’s been preparing for the arrival of e-scooters.

“I make a point of riding every scooter system that’s available everywhere I travel,” he said. “I’ve ridden all the main companies’ scooters, including the older versions and the newer versions. I’ve ridden them up hills, and on pot-holed streets and so forth because I knew this was coming and I wanted to study it.”

Petty encouraged the council to keep an open mind when considering how heavily to regulate e-scooters.

He said research shows that scooters do a lot to reduce emissions, and that they’re not just used by tourists, but also by people who don’t make a whole lot of money. He said e-scooters can present a significant advantage to people who use public transit and who need to go another 500-1,000 feet to get to their place of employment.

“I don’t think those benefits are things we can ignore,” Petty said. “And while I don’t like seeing them tipped over and I don’t like seeing our bikeshare bikes tipped over, to me, that’s kind of a first-world problem.”