Soon Howard County will be joining Baltimore, DC, and many other cities around the nation in the electric scooter craze. At the County Council Legislative meeting last night, legislation CB3-2020, authorizing electric-scooter sharing companies to operate in Howard County was passed, as amended. Under this legislation, a permit process would be established that would permit scooter companies to set up shop in Downtown Columbia and other designated areas of Howard County as soon as May 2020.
Under the legislation, two scooter operators would be selected to receive a permit that would allow them to operate their brightly colored scooters, branded with names like Lime, Bird, Jump, Razor, Spin, or Lyft in 3 specified zones throughout Columbia; Downtown Columbia, Oakland Mills, and Columbia Gateway. Each permit holder would be allowed to distribute between 100 and 200 scooters. Riders would start a trip by unlocking and paying for a scooter rental using a smartphone app.
A draft Request for Proposal to potential scooter operators sets certain criteria and requirements for scooter companies in Howard County that will hopefully soften the hate that many love to give to e-scooters littering the streets and sidewalks in cities nationwide. The RFP establishes parking restrictions that will require scooter operators to only park scooters in certain public places like sidewalks or near bike racks (and not on private property) and provide at least 4 foot of clearance for pedestrians. Scooters would be affixed with a speed governor that ensures scooters cannot exceed 15 mph. Other provisions in the RFP specify insurance requirements, helmet incentives, privacy considerations, and safety measures to ensure scooters operators responsibly manage the program. Permit-holders would be required to pay a $10,000 annual fee to the county and an additional $10,000 refundable bond that the county could keep if unsafe or abandoned scooters are not removed.
One of the most fascinating (in my mind, anyway) aspect of the scooter economy is the creation of a side-hustle for budding entrepreneurs to collect scooters in out of zone locations or scooters with drained batteries, recharge them, and redistribute fully charged scooters in high-demand areas, potentially earning hundreds of dollars per night.
Scooters can provide an easy and beneficial alternative mode of transportation that helps people get around without having to rely on an automobile and search for parking. I think the downtown area of Columbia with its three distinct districts - Merriweather, the mall, and the Lakefront - will be a perfect location - for the fun, environmentally-friendly, and a tad bit silly mode of transit.
Note that this article was updated at 10 AM on 3/3 to indicate that the county council actually voted 5-0 to pass this the legislation, as amended, during the 3/2/2020 council meeting.