The Baltimore City Council gave preliminary approval Monday to legislation that would set rules for dockless scooters and bicycles on city streets.
The vote followed an earlier hiccup in the city Department of Transportation’s regulation proposal which, after a backlash, was amended to remove a $1,000 fine and jail time penalties for riders who violate the rules. People who speed on a scooter or park unlawfully would now face a $20 fine.
The council advanced the bill with a unanimous voice vote.
The legislation would require Bird, Lime, Spin, JUMP and any other companies that receive permits to operate fleets in the city to pay a 10-cent excise tax for each scooter or bicycle ride.
“The agency’s worked hard and in good faith to get to a policy that’s going to work for the city,” said Lester Davis, deputy chief of staff to Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young. “We’re in a good place and we’re ready to get started.”
The scooters have been allowed in Baltimore under a pilot program. The permanent rules, which would replace the pilot if they are adopted, similarly require the companies to provide “equitable access to dockless vehicles for hire throughout the city and in under-served areas,” the bill says.
To receive a permit, the companies would be required to submit their names, documentation of insurance, an agreement to indemnify the city, a performance bond to cover any damage to city property or costs of removing and storing improperly parked equipment, and any other documentation requested by the city.
Under the rules, the companies would face $1,000 penalties for a number of violations, including: having more vehicles than allowed, operating without a permit, failing to provide required data or reports, failing to notify the city of a data breach, displaying advertisements on the bikes or scooters, failing to maintain a 24-hour customer service phone support, failing to adhere to national safety standards, failing to provide equitable access and failing to comply with other requirements established by the city.
Violations that could result in a $500 penalty include: failing to remove the dockless vehicles from streets between dusk and dawn, failing to ensure they are parked according to the rules and failing to move improperly parked scooters or bikes in a timely manner.
Riders would face a $20 ticket if they ride too fast — more than 15 mph on a scooter and 20 mph on a bike using its electric motor — or ride on the sidewalk in some cases.
The amendments also removed a proposed prohibition on riders under age 16 using the scooters or bikes. Now youngsters would be allowed to use them as long as they wear a helmet.
Other specifics, such as the number of vehicles allowed, the age limits and other rules were removed to allow the Transportation Department to have discretion and oversight in the permitting process, which is easier to revise than a city ordinance, said Jed Weeks, policy director for Bikemore, the city’s bicycle advocacy group, which was involved in writing the regulations.
“Everyone is open, even at an ordinance level, to continuing to evaluate and adjust,” Weeks said. “If we pass this law, and every company says we can’t operate under these circumstances, I’m sure we would adjust to reasonable complaints.”
Bird, the first of the operators to place scooters on streets, had raised concerns that the threat of penalties would discourage its independent contractors from working for the company in Baltimore.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke plans to add another amendment before the vote to ensure the penalties are levied on the companies, not their independent contractors.
Councilman Ed Reisinger said Bird also bristled at the 10-cent-per-ride tax, which he said the company wanted reduced to 5 cents.
He thought it was galling of the company to complain about the proposed regulations, given that it dropped the scooters on city streets last summer without asking permission.
“If Bird don’t like the rules and regulations, they flew in and they can fly back out,” Reisinger said. “I don’t care.”
Spokespeople for Bird, Lime and JUMP Bikes, which has not yet launched in Baltimore but has been permitted to do so, did not respond to requests for comment on the record.
Dan Winston, Spin’s general manager for the Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia region, said the company appreciates the framework set up by the regulations, which “allows us to set up our business and our operation in a way that’s going to achieve the public goals.”
“We think they are a good set of regulations,” Winston said.