STARKVILLE — A much-anticipated ordinance to regulate electric scooter riding in the city failed to move forward Tuesday after no alderman would sponsor it.
Instead, following a second public hearing on the ordinance, city officials decided to allow regular traffic laws already on the books to guide regulation and enforcement of e-scooter use in the city limits.
“Essentially, we did a little more research, and there also seems to be a lot less angst about scooters,” Mayor Lynn Spruill told The Dispatch after the meeting, noting she is seeing far fewer complaints about the devices. “People have settled in to the scooters being here and they’re watching for them. And riders seem more educated on how to use them and how not to use them.”
Bird, an electric scooter sharing service, brought scooters to Starkville in April, and public outcry over misuse soon followed. Complaints ranged from users riding scooters on sidewalks, on Highway 12 and sometimes under the influence of alcohol to scooters being left at random places that obstructed pedestrian traffic.
Aldermen twice banned commercial e-scooter use in the city but allowed Bird to resume operations after a contract between the company and the city became effective July 6. The board then held two public hearings on the potential ordinance that would have regulated e-scooter use — both personally owned and commercial — before opting to let existing traffic laws and the contract with Bird stand as the solution.
Board Attorney Chris Latimer, speaking during Tuesday’s hearing, said it is plausible to place e-scooters under a broad definition of “vehicle.” That would require users to drive them on the right side of the road, obey speed limits, use hand turn signals and yield to emergency vehicles, as well as obey other traffic laws. They cannot ride them on sidewalks or race them, Latimer said, and police can enforce driving under the influence laws with e-scooter users.
“All those rules are already on the books (for vehicles),” Latimer told the board. “… If you put a special ordinance on the books for scooters, that gives the police department more teeth for enforcement, but it also brings a heightened focus on police for enforcement.”
While traffic laws do not place age restrictions on scooter riding, the contract requires Bird riders to be at least 18 and it prohibits more than one rider per scooter.
Neither the traffic laws nor the contract require riders to wear helmets, Spruill said.
“Bird makes it a strong suggestion, but it is not a requirement,” she said.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver voiced his disagreement Tuesday with not making e-scooters a specifically regulated device and again raised concerns helmets would not be required. However, he did not move to approve an ordinance draft after the hearing.
Hamp Beatty, who represents Ward 5, likewise opted not to move forward with the ordinance but warned fellow aldermen that decision could have negative consequences. He said just this week he had seen two men riding one scooter down the sidewalk on Lafayette Street.
“We’re about to see a lot more of that when 23,000 (Mississippi State University) students roll back into town,” Beatty said. “I guess if the police are prepared to get out and enforce this … we’re going to have them on the sidewalks.”
“I hope we’re making a good decision by doing this, but I question it,” he later added.
In other business, aldermen ordered a building at Brookville Garden Apartments demolished due to it being dilapidated to the point it is a menace to public health and safety.
Building 10 of the complex, located at 305 Everglade Ave., suffers from mildew, roof damage, water leaks and various other structural and cleanliness issues property owners have failed to address, code enforcement officials reported to the board. Some of the units in the building are occupied.
This is the fourth building at the complex the city has ordered demolished this year for similar reasons.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.