E-scooters

DAILY PROGRESS FILE

Electric scooter and bike rental companies now have to register in Albemarle County.

The county Board of Supervisors asked county staff in November to fast-track a policy ahead of new state laws, including one that would allow companies that rent out e-scooters to operate without a license.

Effective Jan. 1, state law will allow motorized skateboards or scooters on sidewalks, unless a local ordinance is enacted.

Initially, the county proposal included banning all devices, including non-electric bicycles, from operating on sidewalks, but supervisors removed that section to discuss later.

“I disagree that we are choosing the safety of people who choose to ride a device on a dangerous road over the people who are in wheelchairs or people who are walking on the sidewalk,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek, who cast the lone vote against the ordinance. “I think that’s a huge mistake here.”

Board Chairman Ned Gallaway said he received many emails about the fact that non-electric bicycles were included in the sidewalk ban.

“If we’re going to get into the whole bicycle on the sidewalk piece, that’s a conversation we need to slow down and take some time to really work through,” he said. “And I’m not interested in trying to hassle or even argue those rules tonight.”

Kevin McDermott, a county transportation planner, said the board could consider in the future a sidewalk portion of the ordinance that would ban devices on sidewalks on certain road classifications.

“You could ride on the sidewalk on [U.S.] 29 or [U.S.] 250, but not on these local roads where you’re maybe meant to see more pedestrians,” McDermott said.

The county’s ordinance closely aligns with Charlottesville’s program for electric scooters and e-bikes, which was finalized by the City Council earlier this month. Charlottesville’s ordinance bans scooters from sidewalks in all cases.

The University of Virginia also has established requirements for the riding, parking and storing of e-scooters and e-bicycles on university property, but only vendors that have been permitted through Charlottesville are allowed to operate on UVa property.

Albemarle’s ordinance also enacts regulations around how riders can use the devices. The county now requires certain safety equipment, including lights when it is dark outside and brakes.

Riders are required to operate the devices as “close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway,” except when turning, passing or avoiding hazards. They cannot be parked on sidewalks (except the back edge), on streets or obstruct curb ramps, pedestrian access within bus stops or fire access. A fine of up to $50 could be imposed for incorrect parking.

Riders are also prohibited from riding while attached to another vehicle, riding with earphones in and having more than one rider on a device.

The ordinance also creates a permit program for dockless mobility devices for hire, and authorizes the county executive to make the requirements.

McDermott said that for a company to receive a county permit, it will have to prove that it already has a permit from the city.

“The city already has two permitted companies that are operating, and we thought if those companies could be the ones that would operate in the county, that would reduce confusion,” he said. “I think it’d be a much easier program to administer, because no matter what, the scooters are going to go back and forth across the county-city line.”

McDermott proposed a $1,000 permit application fee for companies and a $5,000 annual fee, instead of a per-device fee.

“I think we’re going to see less use in the county than the city sees,” he said. “I just thought that it’s going to take less staff time if we don’t have to keep track of all the numbers of devices.”

He also proposed a fleet size limit of 100 for at least the first year.

“I have been tracking the the two companies that operate in the city and how many you’re seeing in the county right now, not including what’s on the UVa campus, and honestly, it’s around maybe 15 to 20 devices in the county at any one point in time,” McDermott said.

If a company allows scooters into the county without a permit, the county could confiscate them, McDermott said.

Riders will only be able to operate scooters in the county’s development areas, and a “geofence” set up by the companies would block scooters from going into the rural parts of the county.

During public comment, Jay Hightman spoke about the importance of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and how his children have been hit by vehicles while cycling. Robyn Hightman, a Charlottesville High School graduate who was working as a bike messenger in New York, was hit and killed by a truck in June, and Rachel Hightman was hit on Preston Avenue, the second time she had been hit by a vehicle this year, their father said.

“Please think about this for a moment; I nearly lost both of my children to collisions in two and a half weeks’ time,” he said.

Hightman and his wife became founding members of Richmond Families for Safe Streets. He advocates for more bike and pedestrian infrastructure in Albemarle.

“I believe it’s prudent to allow riders of e-scooters and younger children to ride on sidewalks or paved bicycle paths where there’s not a separate protected bike lane available,” he said.

Peter Krebs, with the Piedmont Environmental Council, said the bike lane infrastructure in the area “simply is not there for people to be riding bikes.”

“A lot of times it makes good sense to ride on the sidewalk,” he said. “I’m a city resident, but I’ll tell you, when my child was riding his bike to Buford [Middle School], I told him, ‘Ride down the sidewalk when you’re on Fifth Street. I’ll pay the fine, it’s worth it.’”

Also at its meeting Wednesday, supervisors approved the conveyance of property at 133 Galaxie Farm Lane to the Albemarle County School Board for a second high school center.

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