Last August, 90 electric scooters from start-up company Bird were placed around UNC’s campus on the first weekend back for most students. Users can swipe a credit card to gain access to the scooters, and then they are simply left anywhere when the rider gets where they want to go.
The scooters lasted two days before they were removed at the request of UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill. But bringing the scooters back is not out of the question. On Wednesday, the Town Council talked about the future of ride-share electric scooters and heard from school officials, local police and members of the public.
“In my 20 years as a transportation planner, this is one of the strangest issues I have worked on. It’s been very, very fast moving,” UNC associate director of transportation and parking Than Austin said. “Six months ago, like many of you, I wasn’t really thinking about scooters. And in the last six months, I have been thinking a lot about scooters. So here we are.”
He told the council that the school had received lot of feedback about the ride-share scooters just from their brief time on campus in August. Concerns were raised among students and school officials about the safety of the scooters with the high-density pedestrian traffic found on campus. Following that weekend, UNC updated its policies to prohibit electric scooters on campus sidewalks.
Another factor in this is the confusion of where the scooters fit into state law. Austin said while the legislature might figure it out soon, UNC is holding off on a decision until at least the end of the semester.
“We decided we’re not going to do anything until the end of the semester at the earliest. That’s not to say we will never have scooters on campus, we’re just not going to make a decision until the end of the semester.”
Meanwhile, Raleigh and Charlotte have allowed ride share scooters in their streets. Riders are not allowed in the central business district and prohibited from sidewalks. Asheville banned the scooters in November.
During the public comment session, Chapel Hill resident Bob Epting spoke on his experience with the risks posed to scooter riders. He said his daughter and her fiance were riding down Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh on New Year’s Eve. A pit in the road caused them to fall off their scooters, and they both ended up having to go to the emergency room. That night, Epting said, there were seven other people in the hospital with injuries from electric scooters.
Council member Michael Parker said these forms of alternative transportation are becoming more widely used, and it was in the best interest of everyone to get ahead of the curve on this.
“I think two things. I think one, electric scooters and other alternative forms of transportation are coming. And I think we, not we as in Chapel Hill, not we just as Chapel Hill and UNC, but we as a country need to figure it out.”
Photo via Blake Hodge