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City Council takes no action on scooter proposal

The tail end of 4½-hour meeting was no time to take up a proposal to allow standup scooters downtown.

The Hendersonville City Council on Thursday night heard from a manager of the ride-share company that wants to bring the standup scooters to the city but took no action. As the Lightning first reported last week, the company, Bird, has asked the city for permission to install the franchise here.

Chris Stockwell, a senior manager for Bird, told council members that the company hopes to bring around 50 scooters to the city.

"The goal is to decrease car trips, decrease car emissions and (provide) a number of other transportation benefits," he said. Many cities require users to wear a helmet and have a drivers license. The scooters would be installed at no cost to the city, Stockwell said. Bird would assign an account manager who would be available 24/7 to respond to any problems that come up.

The ride-share company hires a local fleet manager who gets a cut of the ride revenue and can make as much as $70,000 a year, Stockwell said. Riders and nonriders can use a phone number or email to report an improperly parked Bird. Bird operates in about 100 cities globally. It has added12 cities this year and has about 35 scheduled in the next two months. Bird indemnifies cities that agree to become Bird locations.

The City Council may get an earful if it opens up the floor for public comment on the idea. When the Lightning broke the story, commenters turned down the idea 6-0.

"Hendersonville has a quiet lovely downtown where people, in non-Covid times, enjoy gathering and enjoying a good meal and great conversation," one said. "We do not need the noise or danger of scooters all over the place. Please do not consider the idea!"
There may be some education required, too. Many people assume that the scooters would be noisy and would zip along sidewalks. Because they're electric, they're basically silent. And, as Stockwell noted, cities typically prohibit riding on sidewalks and bar double riding.

The ride-share presentation included a model ordinance from the city of Gastonia on regulations. Besides Gastonia, smaller cities that have recently welcomed Bird include Morehead, Kentucky, and Pittsburg, Kansas.

"We haven’t had any follow-up" since the meeting, City Manager John Connet said Monday. "It’s just in a holding pattern for the city at this point. I'll follow up with the mayor and City Council to see if they want to discuss it at a future meeting."

The council may discuss it at one of its mid-month workshop meetings and the Downtown Advisory Committee could take it up and make a recommendation. "Or they can decide to take no action at all," Connet said.

Details such as where the scooters would be available have not been sketched out.

"At the staff level, we talked about a variety of potential locations if they were to come here so that they're not all ganged up on Main Street," he said. "Ultimately, it would be up to the City Council and the Downtown Advisory Committee."

Would the city bar sidewalk riding? "Absolutely, absolutely," Connet said. "If the City Council made a decision to invite them to our community, they are meant to ride on the road."