The electric scooters that have flooded Atlanta streets in recent months are speeding toward regulation – including a ban on sidewalk riding and a new permit system — after the City Council approved an ordinance Jan. 8. The ordinance, passed with a veto-proof 13-1 majority, now awaits Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ signature and likely will take effect within a week.

The scooter companies Bird and Lime distributed their battery-powered vehicles around the city last year without permission or notice. The scooters, which can be picked up and left anywhere, became popular with riders, while drawing city attention for safety hazards and sidewalk blockages. Atlanta and the city of Brookhaven almost immediately began discussion about regulating the vehicles.

Scooters from the company Lime set up on a sidewalk outside Buckhead’s Tower Place 100 skyscraper last fall. (John Ruch)

Atlanta’s ordinance would place new rules on both riders and operators of scooters or other “shareable, dockless mobility devices,” such as electric bicycles.

The ordinance would ban scooter riders from sidewalks, keeping them on streets, bicycle lanes and multiuse paths only. Only one rider per scooter would be allowed, and using phones or similar devices while riding would be banned. Scooters would have to be parked in an upright position in places that don’t block pedestrians or other vehicles. The city could seize improperly parked vehicles.

On the operator side, scooter companies would have to get an annual permit with a fee of $12,000 for the first 500 vehicles and $50 for each additional vehicle. The permit comes with other requirements, including securing liability insurance.

Bird scooters left blocking a Brookhaven sidewalk, as photographed last year by city of Brookhaven officials.

The companies would have to provide riders with basic safety and legal information. And their payment system would have to accommodate customers who don’t have a credit card or smartphone, and offer discounted fees to low-income customers.

The ordinance also calls for a city staff study into the status of current scooter fleets, which apparently includes the companies providing access to real-time usage data.

Among the cosponsors of the ordinance was Councilmember Jennifer Ide, whose District 6 includes the Lindbergh and Armour Yard area. The lone “no” vote came from Councilmember Howard Shook of Buckhead’s District 7.

Shook said he would prefer an outright ban because the new ordinance will be “virtually unenforceable” and because he believes scooters are fundamentally unsafe, making it “morally very uncomfortable to me knowing someone’s going to get hurt.”

“It’s nice we’re prohibiting these things on sidewalks,” Shook said. “Does that mean to imply they’re safe on the street? I think not. I just saw someone almost get flattened on one coming to City Hall today.”

He said he has told his council colleagues, “I’ll bet you a cold malt beverage we’ll be back here rescinding [the ordinance].”

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Councilmember Howard Shook.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.