Council OKs new fees, regulations for scooter-rental companies

The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday night approved rules and the basics of a permitting structure that would regulate the dockless electric scooter-rental companies such as Bird and Lime that popped up in the city last month.

The proposal, passed 19-6 by the council, requires companies to apply for and receive a permit from the city before operating their services. Those with approved applications would be required to pay the city $15,000 annually for a license, as well as a $1 per scooter per day. The city would use the fees to help improve its bike lanes.

In addition to fees, the new regulations also include a $25 fine for users who park scooters in prohibited areas.

Both Lime and Bird pulled their scooters off the streets over the past 11 days while they waited for the city to approve regulations.

Bird, which operated an estimated 500 scooters in the city before removing them last week, would pay roughly $197,500 annually under the proposal, if it returns with the same number of vehicles. Lime, which offered about 300 scooters in Indianapolis, is facing an annual bill of about $124,500 if it brings back the same number of devices.

Both scooter services charge users $1 per ride, plus 15 cents per minute.

A representative from Lime, Jason Wilde, said the company supported the bulk of the regulations, but he also said the proposed fees were "six times" higher than those imposed by other cities. The San Mateo, California-based company does business in about 70 markets. Wilde said the business might not be sustainable long term in Indianapolis under those financial conditions.

However, Thomas Cook, chief of staff for Mayor Joe Hogsett, told council members the city considered fees in other cities before determining how much to charge. He said the $1-per-scooter-per-day fee was “something one of the scooter companies freely offered” as an example.

“We are comfortable that the fee is fair,” Cook said.

Democrat Blake Johnson said he supported the proposal, calling it “the best and most responsible” way to regulate the companies. Others argued the council should send the proposal back to committee to have more time to proceed. Johnson, however, said that doing so would amount to letting the services operate without any structure at all.

The proposal, which on June 28 passed the council’s public works committee, will also require companies to provide certain information to the city, such as serial numbers for every device, manufacturing information, and other data, including origin and destination information for trips, to help with enforcement.

The city would require the companies to offer a 24-hour customer-service line, to hold liability coverage to protect the city and to equip vehicles with either a bell or horn and lights.

The companies would also have to tell users to wear helmets, to yield to pedestrians, and to explain proper parking procedures.

The devices would be required to be parked upright rather than laid down. The devices wouldn’t be allowed to block entrances, driveways or streets.

Council members voted to make several amendments on Monday, including rules limiting ridership to one person per scooter at a time and specifying that users are not allowed to control animals while riding. They also removed a requirement that the scooters have speedometers.

Some on the council expressed concern that the proposal didn’t go far enough to address enforcement. They noted that many users haven't been following the rules of the service, especially when it comes to where the scooters are being used and parked. City laws do not allow motorized vehicles to be ridden on sidewalks or trails such as the Monon Trail or the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

Cook said he believed law enforcement would address “really egregious and unsafe infractions,” but he added, “a lot of this is going to be on the companies themselves to better educate their users."

Democrat Christine Scales said the companies’ relationships with other municipalities across the country “do not bode well” about their track record and for their future relationship with the city.

Republican Jeff Miller said there will likely be more regulation regarding scooters that will come before the council—for instance, he said he wanted to eventually allow the vehicles to use trails if safety concerns could be addressed.

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