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Atlanta City Council lays down law on scooters

In its first effort to regulate the burgeoning electric scooter industry, the Atlanta City Council on Monday approved rules requiring scooter companies to prevent their devices from being haphazardly scattered on city sidewalks and to obtain permits to operate their businesses.

After scooters started appearing in Atlanta last spring, piles of knocked over devices sometimes blocked pedestrians’ paths.

The city now mandates that they be parked upright on sidewalks in a manner that allows pedestrians five feet of space. Scooter companies can be fined up to $1,000 per day for violations.

And the companies must fork over at least $12,000 per year for permits allowing them to operate 500 scooters. Each additional scooter in a fleet will cost $50. Also council imposed a speed limit: The devices can’t exceed 15 miles per hour.

The scooters quickly became a phenomena that drew both praise from users and sharp criticism from residents concerned that they were littering city streets and sidewalks.

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Champions of the devices say the cut down on traffic on already clogged city streets. Detractors complain about the danger of being hit by careless drivers.

01/04/2019 — Atlanta, Georgia — Bird Scooters sit parked on the sidewalk of Euclid Avenue NE in Atlanta’s Little Five Points community, Friday, January 4, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The city evaluated scooter laws in Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco before drafting the legislation, which passed 13-1 on Monday. Other cities and institutions have banned scooters completely. The University of Georgia went so far as to impound more than 1,200 of them and demanded $800,000 in fees.

Atlanta’s legislation focuses exclusively on the companies that own and operate the devices and not on riders. It mandates that companies educate riders about wearing helmet and applicable local law. But it does not fine riders who ignore the recommendations.

Additional regulations include a requirement that scooters are used on streets and avoid sidewalks.

At least one of the companies already seems in compliance with some of the new rules. Bird’s smart phone app includes a safety section instructing riders to wear helmets, avoid sidewalks and on how to park the devices so that they don’t disturb pedestrians.

But almost every day, riders are seen around town flouting the recommendations.

Rebecca Serna, executive director for the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, told the council she shared some of the safety concerns regarding electric scooters. But Serna said the riders will continue using sidewalks because city’s streets are in desperate need of improvement.

“They are going to do it on the sidewalks as long as they don’t feel safe in the streets,” she said.

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