Smart cities give residents options, so what is the City-County Council doing?

Last night the Indianapolis City-County Council Public Works Committee held a hearing on the new Bird and Lime scooter-share services that have nested around Indianapolis. Adding requirements for horns and lights, fees, licenses, and special exemptions were all discussed. The Libertarian Party of Marion County thinks the addition of the scooters and choice in mobility belong in Indianapolis.

“Shared Mobility Regulation” was the first topic on the agenda. It would, among other things, put a $15,000 per year license on the scooter companies, plus a $1-per-day per-device charge. Like every other regulation ever invented by government, this just means anyone interested in starting your own shared service — with scooters or otherwise — is likely out of the running before they get started.

Parking is a concern for the scooters, plus concerns about blocking ADA and building access and bike share services. Best we can tell, no one’s fallen over a scooter or a bicycle in the sidewalk, or run one over in the street. This is likely a solution in search of a problem.

Among the ordinance proposals were exemptions for the Segways that operate at White River State Park because they do not dock in the public right-of-way, but anyone who has seen someone on a Segway knows those things are just as dangerous to pedestrians on the Canal as a scooter or bike.

The Bureau of Neighborhood Services proposed using the fee generated by the licenses to improve bike infrastructure. At $30,000 a year between the two, plus the $1 per day (200 scooters between them for 365 days) gives the City revenue of about $103,000 a year. Which is about enough to plant some flowers along the Penn Street BIke Lane the City obstinately refuses to maintain.

Councilors asked questions about how to deal with drunk drivers, how to protect people, and what to do about the “chaos”, as Jeff Miller put it, of people parking these in people’s lawns. Council Janice McHenry said, “These two companies came in and broke the law, and they continue to break the law. These two companies seem to be bullying our city.”

This is not entirely true. It is true that “motorized mobility devices” are not allowed on sidewalks. Ostensibly because they would go too fast. These scooters are governed to a maximum speed of 15 MPH, which is about half the speed any decent cyclist can travel. An electric bicycle is governed to 20 MPH, which is the maximum speed in almost every state before you have to have a driver’s license.

Two companies came into Indianapolis with a compelling solution to the hardest problem in personal mobility, “the last mile”, and they made it cheap and fun. And they’re the bullies?

We disagree. Non-motorized or motorized devices traveling on the sidewalk is a blanket law that doesn’t always make sense. Some sidewalks are very wide and are perfectly fine for any device operating at a safe or reasonable speed. Is the Cultural Trail no longer a sidewalk? What about the sidewalk along the War Memorial Plaza? These are locations perfectly designed for scooters and bikes since Meridian Street is a poor choice for anything but cars.

Some sidewalks are narrow and rough, and in those instances, people no doubt take to the street — like along New York and Michigan just east of Downtown. Remember, too, that every person on a scooter or bike is one less car on the road for drivers to sit idling behind, and one more parking space available to you at your destination.

Is someone parking them in your yard? That’s violating your personal property. Did someone hit you? That’s violating your personal protection. We already have laws for these infractions. Is someone drunk and riding along on them? That’s public intoxication. We think current laws are perfectly adequate to take care of issues that arise.

The Libertarian Party of Marion County encourages the development of even more options to help people move around our City at every speed, price point, and convenience that can be offered. Because smart cities give residents options. What the City-County Council is likely to do is remove options, and then we’re all worse off.

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