“What we’re trying to do is provide for a platform, provide operating procedures and methods and regulations,” said Preston Mitchell, the city’s development services director. “Have the table set, so to speak, when dinner is ready.”
Johnson City commissioners are scheduled to vote Thursday on the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would establish guidelines for mobility sharing companies and address any safety concerns associated with the service.
Mitchell said the proposed ordinance would allow all forms of mobility sharing, including bikes, electricity-assisted bikes and motorized scooters, but would place specific regulations on different types of devices.
Restrictions on shared bicycles would be similar to regulations on using privately owned bicycles, Mitchell said. The ordinance would, however, put stronger regulations on scooters.
Motorized and non-motorized scooters would not be allowed on roads with a speed limit greater than 30 miles per hour, and motorized scooters would be limited mechanically or digitally to a speed limit of 10 miles per hour.
Mitchell also said Johnson City wouldn’t allow companies to deploy bikes or scooters without a place to dock the devices.
“When a scooter is rented, it will be obtained from that device or returned to that device,” Mitchell said, which is intended to cut down on the number of scooters and bikes abandoned in places like parks, parking lots or sidewalks. The ordinance would also require that companies place docking locations on private property.
An April 2019 study published by the public health department in Austin, Texas, studied e-scooter injuries in the months after the devices began appearing in the city in April 2018 as rentable devices. The authors found 160 people who suffered injuries between Sept. 5, 2018, through Nov. 30, 2018, after riding on a rented, dockless e-scooter.
During that period, the study says 936,110 trips were taken on e-scooters.
The authors of the study found 30 additional people who suffered an injury related to an electric scooter. It was unclear, however, if the injuries occurred on a rentable or dockless scooter. Of the 190 riders, 48% suffered injuries to their head, and 80 suffered a severe injury.
In May, Johnson City conducted a poll on Facebook asking residents if they would be in favor of e-bike and e-scooter sharing services in the city. Out of more than 1,000 votes, 64% said yes and 36% said no.
The city then publicized a more detailed survey, which Mitchell said drew about 500 responses. In general, people who responded to the survey said they were more apt to use a bike or scooter for leisure than for work.
About 32% of respondents said they would use bike sharing for leisure on a weekly basis and about 36% on a monthly basis. About 24% said they would never use a bike-sharing service.
About 26% of respondents said they would use a rented scooter for leisure on a weekly basis and about 29% on a monthly basis. About 35% of respondents said they would never use a scooter-sharing service.
Mitchell said the city has also been in contact with the facilities management department at East Tennessee State University about the ordinance.
ETSU spokesperson Joe Smith said the university is waiting to see what the city does with this proposal. “The City of Johnson City has reached out to us asking for feedback,” he said, “and we will be meeting with them to have these discussions.”
Mitchell said the city has received some basic interest from mobility sharing companies about expanding to Johnson City, but he hasn’t yet seen any formal requests.
Bike and scooter sharing services have cropped up in dozens of major cities across the U.S. Bird and Lime report on their websites that they have presences in places like Washington, D.C., Portland and Nashville. The companies disseminate bikes or scooters across the city, which can be accessed for a fee if riders have the corresponding app on their phones.
“We want to do everything we can to keep Johnson City citizens safe,” Mitchell said. “In addition to that, how do we continue to be business-friendly and recognize trends in the market and trends in the economy? We want to try to do all those things simultaneously.”