Brian Payne, the mind behind the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and the president and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, says he is generally supportive of electric scooter use on the eight-mile pathway, calling the devices a potential benefit to residents in need of flexible transportation options.
But that optimism comes with a caveat.
"In general, this could be positive," Payne told IBJ. "But the scooters shouldn't go too fast. They shouldn't be abused and putting people’s health in danger. I'm hopeful we can find a way to work it out."
Scooter use became a hot-button topic last month when two California-based rent-by-the-minute scooter services dropped off dozens of the battery-powered vehicles near sidewalks and along the Cultural Trail downtown and in other areas. City officials are debating how to regulate the services, which have quickly caught on.
Payne, founder of the 10-year-old Cultural Trail, disclosed that he recently met with officials from scooter service Bird to discuss scooter use around the city and on the trail. Through their conversations, and by taking a ride on a Bird scooter himself, he said he became convinced that the Bird devices travel at a safe speed.
"Bird scooters only go 15 mph," Payne said. "That's in the realm of what works on the cultural trail."
However, Payne said Lime—a competitor that set up shop in Indianapolis just one week after Bird launched rides June 15—rents scooters that can reach 20 mph.
He said scooters exceeding speeds faster than 15 mph pose a risk to the pedestrians, cyclists and people who use wheelchairs—the type of traffic the trail was designed to include.
Lime, though, says its scooters reach a maximum speed of 14.8 mph. Bird, respectively, says it caps scooter speeds at 15 mph. Neither company disclosed testing methods used to determine those speeds.
None of the scooters, Payne added, include speedometers for users to monitor how fast they are traveling.
Payne, a bike enthusiast and proponent of self-propelled transportation options, said he visited the Netherlands two years ago to study the country's thriving bicycle culture. While there, he said a similar debate surfaced when small mopeds that could travel faster than 20 mph gained popularity in the country and began to dominate bike lanes.
"Imagine seeing a gas vehicle pass you at 25 mph on a bike lane that's already crowded," Payne said. "It's dangerous. That's not what we want here."
What Payne does want, however, is to encourage companies like those specializing in electric scooters to first regulate safety, and then consider partnering with the ongoing personal mobility network initiative spearheaded by the Central Indiana Community Foundation.
The effort would create a mobile app that outlines all public transit options available to area residents. This, Payne said, is crucial to helping individuals—particularly those who don't own or have access to a car—reach a job, receive health care and more.
On Thursday, Lime announced would discontinue its services in Indianapolis, at least temporarily, to comply with a cease-and-desist order issued by the City-County Council. The company packed up its green-and-white scooters soon after.
The order followed a council committee's decision to advance a proposal that would impose a $15,000-plus annual fee on scooter-service licensees. The proposed ordinance would also require the companies to have insurance to protect the city from liability and safety features on the vehicles, among other rules.
The proposal being reviewed by the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services and could be voted on the July 16 City-County Council meeting.
Lime said it would return to service—even before the ordinance takes effect—if Bird continues to operate “without enforcement action.”
Bird scooters were still being operated downtown on Friday.