Knoxville prepares to take training wheels off scooter pilot program

·3 min read

After a two-year pilot, city leaders are ready to take the training wheels off the electric scooter program.

The Knoxville City Council approved a permanent program replacing the current pilot program on first reading Tuesday. They will vote a second and final time on the proposal Dec. 14.

In the proposed ordinance, the city would issue permits for up to two companies to operate as many as 300 devices each. The permits will cost $12,000 and will include a $5,000 bond. They can be revoked by the city at any time if riders don't follow parking and usage rules.

More: Love them or hate them, scooters could be in Knoxville for good

More: Will a new electric scooter plan keep downtown riders off sidewalks?

City leaders were slow to allow electric scooters as they watched companies flood other markets. Cities like Nashville got scooters early but were gifted a rash of headaches and lawsuits along with them.

Instead of opening the flood gates, the city implemented a pilot program and rules in early 2019.

Under the pilot program, VeoRide and Link scooters are currently available in Knoxville with each company operating about 250 scooters.

Over the past year, there have been roughly 130,000 scooter trips, mainly in downtown, Fort Sanders and University of Tennessee campus area, according to city data.

“We will be bringing council a proposed ordinance that would establish a permit program under which two scooter companies could operate, with limits on the number of scooters and stricter rules to reduce nuisances like improper parking," Deputy to the Mayor Erin Gill wrote in summary documents. "(City policy and business innovation manager) Carter Hall and the 'scooter team' here have worked closely with experts and others to vet the proposal and we feel that — if council desires to keep this option — it positions us well to address the nuisances."

Link electric scooters parked on W. Church Avenue in downtown Knoxville.
Link electric scooters parked on W. Church Avenue in downtown Knoxville.

In August, the city held a public meeting discussing much of what council will be voting on. The meeting addressed major concerns of Knoxville residents — sidewalk riding, safety and parking.

The proposed ordinance would restrict scooter parking to corrals that fit about 10 scooters, allowing for clear sidewalks and easy pickup by the company at the end of the day.

These corrals would be located across downtown and Fort Sanders.

A Link employee gathers electric scooters on Gay Street in Downtown Knoxville on Wednesday, August 18, 2021. Knoxville residents had an opportunity to weigh in on the scooter pilot program. Much of the feedback was about improper sidewalk riding, scooter parking and safety.
A Link employee gathers electric scooters on Gay Street in Downtown Knoxville on Wednesday, August 18, 2021. Knoxville residents had an opportunity to weigh in on the scooter pilot program. Much of the feedback was about improper sidewalk riding, scooter parking and safety.

Riders could be cited for improper parking or riding under the proposed ordinance, but like in other cities, it would be up to the company to enforce the rules. It’s likely that a ticket would be issued to the company, which could choose whether to pass the charge to the rider.

The proposed ordinance allows for up to 30 seated scooters per vendor, but each seated scooter counts for three scooters toward the 300-device cap. The proposal would also allow for bikeshare vendors to submit applications and would allow between 50 and 100 e-bikes. The city has previously said it would prioritize bikeshare vendors.

Tyler Whetstone is a Knox News politics reporter focusing on Knoxville and Knox County.
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Knoxville plans to make scooters permanent downtown