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Council to vote on allowing e-scooter rentals in city

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The city of Springfield may soon license electric scooter rental businesses. The decision will come at Monday night’s City Council meeting. 

Council held a first reading and public hearing May 31 on an ordinance to allow what was termed a micromobility device rental program – aka electric scooters – within the city. 

The proposed ordinance indicates that scooters are rented in other municipalities around the country, and the quickly growing industry would provide an alternative form of transportation in the city.  

City traffic engineer Brett Foster introduced the ordinance to council and said city staff had researched several other municipalities with electric scooter and micromobility programs. The proposal defines micromobility devices, which are not currently included in the city code, and it provides a method for licensing e-scooter rental companies. 

Foster said Public Works staff and community stakeholder groups are excited at the prospect of e-scooters, though there are a lot of unknowns. 

“There will be some growing pains,” he said, pointing to the newness of the technology and the fluidity of the industry. 

He noted there is indemnity for the city for any damages or injuries through a typical insurance policy, and that devices can be impounded if a nuisance occurs. 

Jen Cox, space manager and director of support services for Missouri State University, said at the public hearing college students have been interested in scooters for several years now. 

If the ordinance is approved, Cox said MSU would contract with a single vendor to offer services for the campus community. 

In a written explanation of the council bill, Martin Gugel, assistant director of public works, said the plan has no financial impact to the city, and his office recommends approval. 

Gugel noted because city code does not define e-scooters, any regulation permitting them, or enforcement of them, presents a gray area. 

Micromobility devices include e-scooters, electric bicycles or other single-passenger transport devices that use a motor, according to Gugel. 

“These devices can add to quality of place, appeal to a larger demographic of people and can be an alternate form of transportation when used in the right setting,” Gugel wrote. “However, when rented in larger volumes, dockless e-scooters can become a public nuisance when left in the wrong places and pose safety risks to riders and pedestrians when operated incorrectly and/or in the wrong locations.” 

In many cities, e-scooters may be located, rented and unlocked through a smartphone app. Geofencing is typically used to limit their use to certain parts of a city. E-scooters used in cities typically top off at 15 or 20 miles per hour, according to multiple commercial websites. 

Gugel noted that amendments to city code are intended to protect interests of city residents in a rapidly changing industry. 

The explanation said the move supports economic vitality and public safety council priorities, in addition to quality of place. 

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