Disrupting the Disruptors: The Dawn of E-Scooter Regulations in Metro Atlanta

In May of 2018, Bird and Lime released their electric, shared scooters in the city of Atlanta. Ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft, now jostling for dominance in the industry, introduced their e-scooters near the end of 2018. Spin and other e-scooter companies are expected to send their fleets to the City as well. This new transportation mode provides Atlantans a quick and cheap way to get around the city.

In response to the recent influx of e-scooters, the Atlanta City Council adopted Ordinance18-O-1322 regulating the operations of shareable dockless mobility devices. Beginning this month, all electric shareable mobility devices (i.e. e-scooters and shareable bikes) must be permitted through the city. Under the ordinance, the city of Atlanta will only accept permits for up to 2,000 electric shareable mobility devices. Each e-scooter operator must pay a permit application fee of $100. The device permit fee is $12,000 annual for up to 500 devices. Companies must pay an additional per device fee of $50 for devices over 500. The ordinance also include public safety rules for e-scooter users. For example, only one rider can operate an e-scooter or bike and a rider must not block any crosswalks or driveways when parking a device.

There is speculation that other cities in metro Atlanta (i.e Brookhaven, Decatur and Dunwoody) may be formulating similar e-scooter regulatory policies. Just over two weeks ago, the City of Tucker passed a moratorium on the use of shareable e-scooters within the City for 120 days to study e-scooter implementation strategy further.  On December 17th, the Decatur City Commission authorized the city manager to negotiate an interim operating agreement between the city and  e-scooter companies. In the approved sample interim agreement, the city of Decatur will only permit 50 e-scooters to operate within the city’s boundaries. Each e-scooter operator must pay an operation of $3,000 each month, as well as a $1.00 for each e-scooter in operation each day. If local cities adopt their own e-scooter regulations that include licensing requirements and fleet restrictions, this could disrupt dockless shareable transportation options in metro Atlanta.

There is also talk around the State Capitol of a state law regulating e-scooters. Currently, there is state legislation (Senate Bill 24) that would require electric personal assistive mobility devices to be licensed under Georgia’s Motor Vehicle law. Although this currently appears to only apply to one-wheeled self-balancing devices (i.e. Segways), this could have a dramatic effect on the shared e-scooter market if this legislation is expanded to include such modes. Essentially, a licensing requirement could mean that scooters would have to be titled and carry separate motor vehicle insurance – effectively making rental scooters financially nonviable in the State of Georgia.

Recent data shows that 79% of people have a “positive perception” of using e-scooters in Atlanta, according to Populus. Further, e-scooters may serve a crucial role in reducing the number of cars on the road, especially as it relates to “last-mile” connectivity, given that 60% of car trips in the United States are less than 6 miles, and 40% of car trips are less than 2 miles, according to recent statistics from the United States Department of Energy.

Electric scooters are emerging as a crucial element of the greater mobility discussion in metro Atlanta. This cost-effective and eco-friendly mode of transportation would not only increase transit ridership, but could also provide a new, equitable service for under-served communities. E-scooters are poised to significantly transform the economic vitality of the metro Atlanta region if regulated in a thoughtful and deliberate way.