It’s a new issue, but an old problem.
On Tuesday, the Starkville Board of Aldermen again opened the door for the return of Bird Scooters, which provides scooter rentals as a ride-sharing service. The scooter service had been banned twice by the Board of Aldermen (including an override of a veto by Mayor Lynn Spruill) as a risk to public safety and the possibility of lawsuits against the city.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, Bird agreed to indemnify the city from any legal action that could result from injuries related to the operation of the electric scooters, which can travel up to 15 mph.
The board will also hold two public meetings to get feedback on a city ordinance that governs the operations of these scooters.
That neither of these measures were taken before Bird first began operations in Starkville in March might seem, in retrospect, a no-brainer mistake. Yet history clearly shows that when new modes of transportation arrive, it often takes time to understand them and fashion reasonable regulations for them.
The best example is, of course, the automobile. When Henry Ford developed the first assembly line, a process that allowed for mass production and, as a result, a boom in automobile sales, cities at first found it difficult to understand the impact on automobiles and how best to regulate their uses to ensure order and public safety.
Cars arrived well in advance of any laws that governed them. There were no stop signs, traffic signals, lanes, speed limits, pedestrian crossings or even right-of-way rules, mainly because none of these laws were necessary when traffic was confined to pedestrians, horses or streetcars.
Among the earliest driving laws was one that required a motorist have someone walk in front of the automobile waving a red flag to warn people of the auto’s pending arrival.
Those early laws, many of them ridiculous, evolved over time as society began to understand how automobiles could be safely operated in urban settings.
But it took a while.
Certainly electric scooters are not likely to revolutionize transportation on the scale of the automobile, but their arrival, not unlike the arrival of the automobile, has exposed areas where existing laws do not account for the new mode of transportation.
Starkville’s initial ban on the scooters came after reports of people riding them on the sidewalk, down highways or under the influence of alcohol. There were some who viewed them as a menace, which isn’t a new idea, either. Some cities initially banned automobiles for the same reasons.
Starkville leaders found themselves with two choices: Either ban the scooter outright or develop a plan to safely accommodate them.
We believe the city acted wisely in choosing the latter and applaud the board for making sure citizens have some say in how the scooter regulations are crafted.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.