Fayetteville council approves regulations for e-scooters

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

Fayetteville officials seem to be ready for the impending arrival of electric scooters on the city’s streets and sidewalks.

City Council members on Tuesday approved a set of e-scooter regulations just days before a new state law goes into effect that requires municipalities to allow 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 seems to have been a reaction to some resistance in Fayetteville.

Blake Pennington, Fayetteville’s assistant city attorney, said the city was approached several months ago by a large e-scooter vendor that was preparing to drop several hundred scooters around town. Pennington said the city administration asked the company to hold off, but they weren’t happy with that request.

“So they did what any big national company does,” said Pennington. “They hired a lobbyist and found a friendly legislator who got a law passed that requires us to allow these scooters in our city.”

While the new law doesn’t let cities ban e-scooter companies from operating, some late changes to the measure did give municipalities the right to establish “reasonable” rules regarding the use of e-scooters and how the vendor operate.

What are electric scooters?

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.

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.

Fayetteville’s regulations

Some of Fayetteville’s rules were written internally, while others were taken from cities where e-scooter companies have already launched like Austin, Dallas, Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale.

Initially, Fayetteville’s proposal called for limiting the total amount of e-scooters that could operate within the city to 1,000, but that number was amended on Tuesday to 500. Council Member Teresa Turk wanted to further reduce the number to 250, but her motion did not receive a second.

A permitting process will require each vendor to pay a $150 fee plus $20 per scooter every six months. Individual vendors are limited to 250 scooters. The revenue generated from the permits will be used to administer the program and to fund bicycle and scooter infrastructure improvements.

For safety reasons, users will not be allowed to ride the scooters on sidewalks that a building faces, such as Dickson Street where someone could step out of a business and be in the path of an oncoming scooter. The scooters can be ridden on other sidewalks where buildings are on a setback, and also on the trail system and roadways – just like bicycles.

Riders must park the scooters 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 members weigh in

Council member Matthew Petty 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.”

Council member Turk proposed an amendment to require scooter riders to wear bicycle helmets, but her motion failed.

Council Member Sarah Marsh said she’s not in support of requiring helmets – partially because not even motorcycle users are required to wear helmets in Arkansas. But also because she said e-scooters are sometimes a benefit to people who are using public transport and who need help getting from bus stops to their workplace, and this amendment would require people to carry helmets around with them all the time in case they want to rent a scooter after they get off a bus. Marsh said she’d rather not put up barriers that would hinder the success of the program.

Council Member Sarah Bunch agreed, and said the city also doesn’t require helmets for the bike share program.

Council Member Smith said as a cyclist, it’s hard for him to vote against the helmet requirement amendment for e-scooters, since he knows the importance of wearing a helmet. But he said one of the goals of the program is to get more people out of cars and that the fewer obstacles the city builds for scooter riders the better. He said he knows there have been some injuries with e-scooters, but when put in perspective, the number of incidents are much lower than those involving vehicles.

Council members on Tuesday enacted an emergency clause that puts the new regulations in effect immediately.