March 7 2019 12:02 AM

Draft ordinance inches closer to passage


THURSDAY, March 7 — Electric scooters are headed back to Greater Lansing. And they’re bringing cash.

After a wintry season curbed a newly-launched fleet of electric scooters in Lansing and East Lansing, city officials have worked to polish up some rules for their inevitable, warm-weather return.

East Lansing adopted an ordinance this week. Lansing City Council is poised to formally adopt an ordinance of its own on Monday. And both cities are planning to rake in some extra funding from billion-dollar companies like Lime and Bird.

“This has potential to generate some serious revenue,” explained Lansing Councilman Peter Spadafore. “The plan is to invest it into this non-motorized transport network. This will hopefully allow us to have some money for those types of things on road projects over the next couple of years. It’s extra revenue to invest into the city.”

Lansing rushed together a licensing agreement in October after Lime and Bird rolled into the city without much (if any) prior notice. The deal lasted 60 days, limited each company to 250 scooters and required a flat $125 licensing fee — standard for doing business on city streets. East Lansing never struck a temporary agreement.

Spadafore said an ordinance slated for adoption at Monday’s City Council meeting aims to charge each company an upfront, $2,500 annual licensing fee along with a 10-cent, per-ride surcharge for every scooter rented within city limits. Early ballpark estimates suggest Lansing could rake in about $75,000 annually.

No formal revenue analysis has been done. That number crunching will come later. But the cash will hopefully be earmarked for infrastructure improvements like bike lanes and sidewalk enhancements, Spadafore said. Monthly ridership reports from each company could also help dictate where those projects are launched.

“We’re also requiring they work with the city to develop an educational campaign on the proper way to use these scooters,” Spadafore added. “We didn’t designate exactly what that’ll look like. It could be Facebook videos.”

Licensing restrictions wrapped into Lansing’s ordinance have been underway for months. Prior drafts outlined a $5,000 annual licensing fee with a $1 per-scooter charge. Spadafore said recent reductions reflect a cost more “in line” with industry standards that better represent the “true cost” of running a scooter rental service in Lansing.

“We set it at $5,000 and that was a guess,” Spadafore said. “It took time to find the right number.”

The ordinance, if approved, would also remove a prior 250-scooter limit from the last licensing arrangement.

Some local residents have voiced concerns about a theoretically limitless number of scooters littering city streets. But capitalism will ultimately solve the problem, Spadafore suggested. The overarching concept: If the scooters aren’t being used, they’re not going to redundantly line city sidewalks. That’s simply bad business.

“These scooters are moved,” Mayor Andy Schor said previously. “These companies track the usage and if they’re being used, they stay. If not, they’ve moved somewhere else. They’re not just dropping off scooters to leave them around town. If we have several hundred being used, then we’ll have several hundred scooters on the streets.”

As a precaution, Lansing’s ordinance is slated to include language that allows the city to impose a cap if needed.

East Lansing City Council recently passed a scooter ordinance of its own. Rules passed on Tuesday evening largely mirror Lansing and also include a $2,500 licensing fee. They also limit scooter usage from March 15 through December 15 and require they be removed during wintry weather.

An added regulation caps sidewalk speeds at 10 mph, despite concerns about enforcement from the East Lansing Police Department. A memo from Chief Larry Sparkes said officers "would not be able to successfully enforce" the ordinance. It also noted his radars weren't designed to track scooters.

Mayor Pro-Tem Erik Altmann said the regulation is more about "sending a message" than actual consequence. That message? Scooters cruising down East Lansing sidewalks should take it slow.

Estimated revenues from the arrangement are expected to rise into the “tens of thousands” this year but Altmann couldn’t elaborate. Those funds will be designated to cover the costs of administering the program. The remainder — like Lansing — will be allocated specifically to infrastructure improvements.

Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage from Lansing City Council.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify details about East Lansing's ordinance.