At its first full meeting of 2019, the Atlanta City Council voted in favor of placing greater regulations on shareable dockless mobility device, also known as electric scooters.
Bill 18-O-1322, drafted by Post 1 at-large Councilman Michael Julian Bond and co-sponsored by council members Dustin Hillis (District 9), Jennifer Ide (District 6), Matt Westmoreland (Post 2 at-large) and Andre Dickens (Post 3 at-large), includes measures regulating both users and scooter-operating companies.
Among users’ regulations are the mandate that scooters may only be ridden along the street, in designated bicycle lanes or along shared-use paths throughout the city (i.e. sidewalk riding is no longer permitted); a ban on holding wireless devices, such as mobile phones, while the scooter is in use; parking the device upright in designated areas; and a restriction of one rider per scooter.
Companies operating scooters must adhere to parking zones and no-parking zones established by the department of city planning office of zoning and development; have a plan for educating users on proper parking, operations and other applicable laws; and encourage helmet usage, among other requirements.
Importantly, the city reserves the right to reduce the number of shared devices under a company’s permit if their devices are consistently parked improperly. The standard one-year permit as outlined in the ordinance is $12,000 for 500 scooters per company fleet with a $50 fee for each additional device.
Two amendments were made to the original bill, which was recommended to the full council as favorable by its transportation committee and favorable on substitution by its public safety and legal administration committee.
The first of these amendments included payment measures that do not require the user to have access to credit cards or smart phones to operate the devices as well as discounted-price options for low-income individuals, while the second amendment requires a written report from the office of mobility planning, submitted within 90 days of the ordinance’s effective date, to assess the current state of scooter sharing in Atlanta in terms of companies’ fleet sizes. Both amendments were approved 14-0.
The ordinance passed 13–1, with District 7 Councilman Howard Shook, who represents part of Buckhead, abstaining. Shook said he voted against it because it’s unenforceable, both on the users’ side and on the companies’ side.
“(The Atlanta Police Department) has other things it needs to be doing. Public works has other things it needs to be doing better,” he said. “I predict within five years we’ll do what a lot of cities have done. We’ll look at the policy we’ve created, look at the track record, all of the complaints and we’ll repeal it.
“Writing on a piece of paper that scooters can’t be operated on a sidewalk means next to nothing. People are going to be hurt and maybe killed, whether riding on the sidewalk or not. I think it’s a response and an attitude that reflects the mainstream feedback I’ve gotten from constituents: that it’s unenforceable.”
District 11 Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet, who supported the measure, said action needed to be taken now to regulate these devices, which have been on Atlanta streets since May.
“This industry has been unregulated for far too long,” she said in a news release. “Today’s legislation may need (subsequent) substitutions or amendments, but this is something we (as a legislative body) can work on. It’s time. We have to do our job as council to protect the community’s well-being.”
As for the companies that violate the regulatory restrictions, the primary authority and responsibility for the enforcement of the provisions of this chapter in the city’s right of way shall be vested in the commissioner of the department of public works, said Dexter Chambers, a council spokesman.
Upon a determination that an operator is in violation of this chapter or any administrative regulations promulgated by the Department of city planning, the city shall issue notice or issue a citation. Notices of violation or citations may result in:
o the revocation or suspension of a scooter after written notice and reasonable opportunity to cure; and/or
o an administrative fine not exceeding $1,000 per day for each a violation of a provision of this chapter or any administrative regulations promulgated by the department of city planning
As for a user who violates the restrictions, a person convicted of a violation of this code shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $1,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, work on the public streets or on public works of the city for not more than six months, supervised home confinement for a term not to exceed six months or any combination thereof. With respect to violations of this code that are continuous with respect to time, each day the violation continues is a separate offense.
The ordinance now moves to the mayor’s desk, which must be acted upon within seven days. Upon approval, it will take effect immediately.
Additionally, a personal-paper resolution was introduced by Bond for immediate consideration to execute an intergovernmental omnibus tax allocation district (TAD) agreement with Atlanta Public Schools.
“This piece of legislation represents the legend of the Atlanta way made real,” Bond said in a news release. “This is how we should operate all the time with our sister government, working cooperatively for the benefit of all of our citizens and all of our children for our best economic interests. This legislation allows all votes via these TADs to work as they are intended, and it also treats the school system fairly by giving them the adequate return and the budget certainty that they need to provide for our children in the way of the educational system.”
Other legislative items discussed by the council included:
o An ordinance (Legislative Reference No. 18-O-1774) by Hillis, Westmoreland and Dickens authorizing the city to transfer by quitclaim deed property located at 1605 Donald Lee Hollowell Pkwy. (formerly Carter G. Woodson Elementary School) to Atlanta Public Schools. The bill was adopted 14-0.
o Ordinance No. 18-O-1778, which would establish specific guidelines and eligibility criteria to govern the award of bonuses to employees, was referred back to the finance committee for further discussion at its next meeting Jan. 16. The previous mayor, Kasim Reed, is under investigation for allegedly illegal bonuses he gave employees while in office.
Shook, who chairs the finance committee, said Marian Woods, the city’s human resources commissioner, met with him prior to the council meeting to say she needed more time to amend the ordinance.
“Remember, there were two separate reviews of bonus activities of the previous (mayor’s) administration as well as traditionally by the city council,” he said. “Both reviews found they violated the gratuities prohibition enshrined in the Georgia Constitution. So we said, ‘OK, let’s write an ordinance that will make it compliant (with state law).’ We’re not going to try to do that ourselves, so the ordinance (crafters) asked the HR department to make recommendations, which would then be turned over to the ethics and audit departments, for review and support.”
Shook said Woods told him some of the ordinance’s language is vague and some is contradictory, so it needs to be cleaned up.
“Bonuses across the city have been done for a long time, in performance bonuses when we can’t afford (to give employees) a raise,” he said. “(Woods) wants to take this opportunity for a global fix to tie all these things together. She asked for more time. I thought that was reasonable. I think it’s important to get it right and take our time instead of rushing it out and later having something someone may have a problem with.”
Shook said it will likely take at least a month before the ordinance goes back before the council for a vote.
Finally, Bond presented Gov. Nathan Deal with a proclamation honoring his work and service as Georgia’s 82nd governor. Deal’s second and final term in office ends Monday.
News Editor Everett Catts contributed to this report.