Starkville residents have been scooting down the highway, prompting city officials to consider new ordinances regulating scooters.
The board of aldermen discussed the issue at Tuesday’s regular board meeting, following multiple complaints from citizens that riders have been misusing the Bird scooters available for rent throughout the city. While most aldermen said they do not want the scooters to be outlawed completely, they know the vehicles need regulation.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said he has heard many complaints from constituents about misuse of the scooters, including pictures of people riding them down highways, riding them on sidewalks and not wearing helmets.
“It’s a total disregard for traffic laws,” Carver told The Dispatch. “In the Kroger parking lot, I’ve seen multiple videos of multiple people not following the typical flow of pattern. They’re just going wherever they want to go. … I thought they were beneficial until it looks like we’re going to have a few individuals ruin it for everybody else.”
Starkville Police Department has fielded multiple complaints about people riding scooters on Highway 12, as well as other complaints, SPD Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady said. Some of these complaints include scooters on sidewalks or individuals operating them while under the influence of alcohol. Lovelady said if SPD sees instances of abuse, officers will write citations.
Currently, Starkville does not have any regulations on low-speed vehicles, such as scooters or golf carts, though it has an ordinance requiring riders of certain vehicles to wear helmets.
Lovelady said other cities in the state, including Vicksburg and Diamondhead, have legislation on traffic laws for scooters, and Starkville should follow suit.
“It’ll take legislation to say these are the streets you can drive on, and these are where they can be operated at this point,” Lovelady said. “If people are being unsafe and violating traffic laws, we’re going to address it. Until we have some more set restrictions at the city level, we’re going to be writing citations.”
Bird scooters first came to Starkville in late March, with the company delivering a fleet of 25 available for rent. Mayor Lynn Spruill communicated with the company, which received a license to conduct business in the city.
“If they came to Starkville, they came at their own business risk,” Spruill told The Dispatch April 1.
While complaints are steadily accelerating, Bird spokesperson Natalie Sawyer told The Dispatch the company is working with the city on additional education on proper riding.
“Bird has first-time riders complete a safety quiz before their first ride, highlighting the rules of the road,” Sawyer said. “We encourage responsible riding within the app, email communications and push notifications.”
This is not the first time Starkville has had an issue with a ride-sharing scooter rental service.
In 2019, Lime brought its scooters to town, which were forbidden on Mississippi State University’s campus. However, users still brought them onto campus, sometimes causing dangerous conditions including collisions with cars. Lime decided to pull out of its agreement in Starkville after the continuous complications with the university.
Ward 5 Alderman Hamp Beatty said while he believes Bird scooters are beneficial for residents because they provide another mode of transportation, he wants to see legislation on the machines.
“We’ve got to get some regulation on (the scooters)…,” Beatty said. “I want them to work. I want them to provide a means of transportation to people who need it. I would be in favor of reasonable restrictions on them for us to be able to have them.”
Some particular regions of the city are geofenced off, such as MSU, and the scooter will automatically shut down if a rider approaches campus. Highway 12 cannot be geofenced the same way, Spruill said, because while it is prohibited to drive alongside the highway, people need to have the ability to cross from one side to the other.
Carver said he sees the board discussing a more strictly-enforced helmet mandate, which would alleviate some of the potential injuries and accidents, at the next aldermen meeting on June 15.
“I don’t think I have the right to tell another grown man to wear a helmet, but the city is going to decide within the next two weeks if we’re going to enforce the helmet ordinance or not because nobody is wearing them,” Carver said.
Some individuals have enjoyed having the Bird scooters in town. MSU junior Kevin Garcia said he has appreciated being able to travel with a Bird scooter but understands that many have abused the devices.
“I think they have a good purpose,” Garcia said. “I think they could be used in Starkville, but people should just know their limits and which areas of town to ride them in.”