Smfd. scrambles to control scooters

Published 8:18 pm Tuesday, December 3, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

The Smithfield Town Council is taking preemptive steps to control a potential influx of shared electric scooters, or “e-scooters.”

According to town officials, if an ordinance is not adopted before Jan. 1, the town of Smithfield will not be able to regulate e-scooters in the future. 

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Town Attorney Bill Riddick is putting together legislation that the Smithfield Town Council was expected to vote on Dec. 3 that would require companies to obtain a license from the town in order to operate in Smithfield.

The proposed ordinance is being modeled after what Riddick called a “pretty basic” ordinance already in place in James City County.

Virginia code section 46.2-1315 allows localities to create regulations around the use of e-scooters in their jurisdictions, such as requiring companies to have a license, but also lists a Jan. 1, 2020 deadline for jurisdictions to adopt one. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Following that, e-scooter companies will have “free range” in Virginia localities that don’t have regulations on the books, according to Interim Town Manager Sanford “Sandy” Wanner. 

Riddick said that if a town ordinance was passed and put on record before the new year, that ordinance could be amended or otherwise modified as Town Council sees fit. If no ordinance is officiated by that date, the town would potentially lose the opportunity to regulate e-scooters at all.  

“From my point of view, it’s really a risk assessment issue,” said Wanner, adding that the e-scooters could make roads and sidewalks more dangerous if they were to go unregulated. 

While the deadline is what’s motivating town staff to act now in terms of creating an e-scooter ordinance, Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams said that he doubts e-scooters will be showing up in Smithfield any time soon. 

Riddick also questions whether or not e-scooters would one day be zipping up and down Main Street. 

“I don’t know what the appetite for this is,” said Riddick. 

James City County adopted an ordinance on Nov. 12 that requires companies that want to place e-scooters in the county to first obtain a license to operate from county staff. Companies that don’t do that will be fined $50 per scooter, or other “shared mobility device,” states the ordinance. 

Around Hampton Roads, e-scooters are mainly seen in Norfolk and Virginia Beach. On June 11, the city of Norfolk adopted an ordinance to regulate e-scooter companies, requiring them to maintain liability insurance with the city of Norfolk listed as additional insured in the amount of $4 million and to maintain a 24-hour customer service line. E-scooters in Norfolk are also capped at 20 mph, according to city documents. 

The City of Norfolk is currently in partnership with Lime Scooters. 

Several months ago, the Virginia Beach City Council banned e-scooters on much of the Oceanfront, and on roadways with a speed limit greater than 25 mph. The city code was recently amended to require e-scooter companies to have a franchise license with the city in order to operate in Virginia Beach.  

Last year, about 500 “Bird” electric scooters popped up in Norfolk without permission from the city and were later impounded. The company had to pay $20,000 to get the scooters back, according to multiple news reports. {/mprestriction}