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Columbus in talks to regulate electric scooters-for-rent

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Columbus in talks to regulate electric scooters-for-rent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) — Just as fast as they rolled into town, electric scooters-for-rent are causing confusion.

What are the rules for riding a rented electric scooter? It’s unclear, at this point. The companies renting the two-wheel powered vehicles say helmets are required and operation is restricted to bike lanes — no sidewalk operation. But city attorney Zach Klein said on Twitter Monday evening that some of those rules don’t necessarily apply right now.

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“We have instructed the Division of Police that they are allowed to be ridden on both (sidewalk and roadway),” Klein wrote. “That does not mean, however, that scooters can be ridden recklessly, while impaired or in violation of other laws.”

The scooters are rented by the companies "Bird" and "Lime." Their strategy here appears to have been the same strategy they employ in dozens of other cities: show up, drop a few hundred scooters around town and start renting them to riders.

But can Columbus handle an influx of hundreds of scooters on its bike lanes and sidewalks? One engineering expert says, it won't go smoothly at first.

"You're decongesting the roadways — but on the safety side, are our streets engineered to be scooter-friendly?" asked Dr. Bhaveen Naik, a professor and researcher in transportation civil engineering at Ohio University. "If you're in Portland, Oregon, they are a bike-friendly city. Columbus, Ohio? Probably not."

While you need a valid driver's license to rent one of the scooters, and you sign an in-app contract guaranteeing you alone are the rider — nothing in the law right now stops a renter from giving the scooter to someone else, for riding on sidewalks or streets, with or without a helmet. Klein says the regulations currently in discussion will explore legality regarding age, ability and criminal history of scooter operators.

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Insurance is also a concern, with the waiver for operation heaping much of the responsibility for damages and crashes on the operator, and removing the scooter companies from liability. The Ohio Insurance Institute expressed deep reservations on Tuesday about welcoming such unknown technology to a city with hundreds of thousands of people driving each day.

“Motorized scooters have introduced a number of concerning safety and legal questions that should be answered, before adding this additional hazard on sidewalks and roads," said Dean Fadel, president of the Institute. "Fortunately, a number of large cities around the country — and at least Bexley here in Ohio — have banned this activity to protect their citizens, and give city officials time to establish proper safety guidelines.

"Without clarity, there will be chaos," wrote Fadel.

The Columbus Department of Public Service released the following statement Tuesday morning, confirming it is in contact with Bird and Lime.

“The Department of Public Service is aware that these shared mobility device companies have begun to operate in the City of Columbus. At this point, there have been some conversations between the department and these companies and we anticipate additional conversations to occur in the near future. The intent of these conversations will be to develop a process in which the residents and visitors of the City of Columbus can access the best services possible while also allowing the city to prudently manage the public right of way.

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Also, the city is interested in seeing how these services and others can provide additional smart mobility opportunities in the City of Columbus.”

So far, Columbus Police report there have been no serious or fatal crashes in the city involving rented electric scooters. Complete traffic data and crash reports are as yet unavailable, since the scooters have only been in town for two or three weeks.

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