PITTSBURG — At various events in recent weeks the City of Pittsburg has been offering test rides on electric scooters that may soon become available to rent from the company VeoRide for short trips around town. At Tuesday’s city commission meeting, commissioners and city staff discussed some of the pros and cons of approving an ordinance to regulate use of the scooters.
“If a pedestrian or someone else is injured by the rider of this, does the person injured have the right to sue this company, the individual driving it, the City of Pittsburg?” asked Mayor Patrick O’Bryan.
Deputy City Manager Jay Byers said that any lawyer will tell you that anyone can sue anyone else for anything.
“But in general there’s a disclaimer when you sign up to drive these that you’ll be responsible for what happens, so it’s the rider’s responsibility,” Byers said.
City Manager Daron Hall said one of the main reasons to pass an ordinance was to make sure the companies that provide the scooters and service them are registered and have insurance.
VeoRide already has a presence in Pittsburg, offering bicycle rentals on the Pittsburg State University campus. The company’s scooters are similarly expected to be used largely by PSU students, although city officials have discussed also allowing their use downtown at least as far as the area near Block22 just north of 4th Street and Broadway. One feature of the scooters that city officials have promoted is that they can be “geo-fenced,” or electronically blocked from leaving a designated area.
Commissioner Chuck Munsell said he wanted more information on potential problems with the scooters that other cities may have had, including injuries. Munsell said both statistical data and other information such as news articles could be helpful in making a decision about an ordinance regulating the vehicles.
Commissioner Sarah Chenoweth said information on the scooters’ environmental impact — which she said would likely be mostly information about their environmental benefits because they are electric — would also be helpful. Chenoweth said her biggest concern about the scooters, however, was what the police department thought of them, considering that they would be the ones enforcing rules about their use. O’Bryan also said the police department’s ability to enforce scooter regulations was his biggest concern.
Pittsburg Police Lt. Ben Henderson addressed the commission to explain the police department’s perspective.
“Generally we do have some concerns about potential safety issues with this, and we’re kind of concerned about how the enforcement of this may come out,” Henderson said. “This is a new venture for the city though and we’re, you know, kind of looking forward to the opportunity to work with city leadership to go on this venture, you know, make this a viable option for the City of Pittsburg.”
James Cox, and administrative intern with the city who has been working on the potential ordinance regulating the scooters, said one benefit of the scooters would be that the city could track their locations to look for patterns of how they’re used to make better plans for placement of things such as sidewalks and bike paths.
Although VeoRide has been the first “dockless vehicle” company to show an interest in operating rental scooters in Pittsburg, if the city passes an ordinance allowing them, Cox said, “anyone can come in, bring bikes, scooters, whatever.”
Commissioner Dan McNally asked if there was anything that would stop companies like VeoRide — or its larger competitors such as Bird and Lime — from coming to Pittsburg.
“You could simply ban then,” said Deputy City Manager Jay Byers.
O’Bryan noted that the plan the city was considering included having a VeoRide employee that riders could contact between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. if they had a problem.
“It would seem to me like you’re going to need a contact person after 6 p.m.,” O’Bryan said. “I mean, what college kid — who we assume are going to be the big users of this — goes home at 6 p.m.?”
Cox said VeoRide has a phone number that riders can call 24 hours a day, but they might not be able to reach someone in Pittsburg. Even if the scooters could be ridden after 6 p.m., however, Byers said the scooters themselves would not be available 24 hours a day.
“We can set a shut down time for these after a certain period of time,” he said. “Typically, by 10 o’clock you can’t ride them any longer.”
O’Bryan pointed out that the scooters do have a headlight.
“Just a headlight, no tail light, no turn signal or anything?” asked Munsell.
The scooters actually do have a tail light, as well as a light underneath the scooter that gives off a blue glow that would be visible at night, Byers said, but they don’t have turn signals.
McNally said the lack of turn signals was concerning, and Chenoweth said she had tried signalling with her hand when she went on a test ride on one of the scooters and it was not a practical option.
“I’m just having a hard time picturing how a scooter would integrate with traffic downtown safely,” Commissioner Dawn McNay said.
O’Bryan said if the city does approve an ordinance allowing the scooters, he would want it to be temporary, so that the city has the ability to make changes if they end up causing too many problems.
“There’s probably 1,000 reasons not to do this,” Hall said, but pointed out that the city has been actively looking for alternative transportation options and urged the commissioners to keep an open mind about the scooters.
Earlier in September, Byers noted that in some cases, other scooter rental companies “just came in and dumped hundreds of scooters in cities without any regulation, without any rules or guidelines, and there were some bad experiences that people had.”
The same thing could potentially happen in Pittsburg, several people at Tuesday’s meeting noted.
“So the options are we pass some kind of ordinance,” Chenoweth said, “or there is no ordinance, or we ban them.”
Cox said this was basically correct.
“And if there is no ordinance, then they can just come in regardless of what we say, and we have no way to regulate them,” he said.
McNay said this meant that doing nothing was not a viable option.
“So it’s ordinance or banning, really,” she said.
O’Bryan said he is not necessarily opposed to the scooters but there are some questions that need to be answered. City staff said they would try to get answers to commissioners’ questions and bring back more information on the city’s options at the next commission meeting.