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Bird swarm: Atlanta draws up rough draft of ordinance to regulate scooter sharing

The scooters have been both a blessing and a curse in other cities. Now Atlanta is trying to make the best of a new industry within the city limits.
Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
A pedestrian walks past two Bird dockless scooters, one laying on its side, in the middle of a sidewalk.

ATLANTA -- All across Atlanta right now, Bird is definitely the word after hundreds of electric scooters recently popped up all across town.

Now, the city council is working to figure out if and how it should regulate this fledgling industry. On Friday, a Bird representative told one council member they have been in town for about 70 days and have, so far, had nearly 39,000 riders. So, it looks like they aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

During a work session the council held on Friday, members made it clear that they want Bird and other shareable scooter and bike companies in Atlanta to hopefully get some cars off the roads.

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"To come down here to city hall, if I take MARTA today, it takes 58 minutes from my house. If I ride my regular bicycle, I can do it in 30," Jennifer Ide said. "If I ride my electric bicycle, I can do it in 20, which is about what I can drive in. That is what we want people to be doing to help get off the streets."

11Alive has seen Bird riders on sidewalks and in Piedmont Park often without helmets and, in one picture the council shared, on the Downtown Connector. Birds top out at 15 mph.

In Virginia-Highlands, you can find shareable bikes for rent like these from Relay that riders can rent and return to one of several docks around town. Bird scooters, though, are dockless and can be parked anywhere - like some we found parked on the edge of the sidewalk.

The user is supposed to park the scooter and then upload a picture to the Bird app of the scooter properly parked at the end of their trip.

But, on Instagram, users can find a couple hundred posts under the hashtag #scootersbehavingbadly with scooters from Bird and a variety of companies blocking sidewalks and other right-of-ways around the country.

"We want to look and see what are the safest options for our citizens," Councilman Michael Julian Bond said. "Because the demand is there, people are going to want to ride them, so we want to provide as many safe guidelines as possible."

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As the council makes an ordinance to control scooter and bike companies, he said the council needs to clean up current laws or ordinances for using motorized vehicles.

Each Bird scooter comes with a clear list of rules. And the app labels several places around town as "No-Ride Zones" - clearly marked in red.

In the proposed ordinance before the council, which Bond wrote, there are also several additional safety items. Riders would have to yield to pedestrians, helmets are encouraged, no riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol and the scooter or bike companies must maintain at least $3 million in liability insurance.

"And I think our orientation should be how do we ensure the right safety rules are in place," council member Amir Farokhi said. "But also encourage this extra and new form of mobility."

Bond said public works has already confiscated 10 illegally parked scooters for blocking public sidewalks. But further regulation could come.

"We will have to build a permanent solution into the ordinance to make sure that is clear and spelled out going forward," Bond said. "One of the things I'm going to propose as we work on this ordinance is that our planning department and our public works department combine to do a plan for these types of vehicles going forward."

Bond said that after the proposed ordinance is reworked with more input from scooter and bike companies - as well as residents - it could be adopted later in 2018.

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