Common Council was skeptical about approving a pilot program for e-scooters during their June meeting. The initial resolution would have gotten scooters on the road during the summer, but council members had concerns about the program. Considering e-scooters have not been approved legally in New York State, many councilors had a problem implementing them for this reason, and finally decided to hold off, approving more research into the proposal but disallowing any final approval of a pilot program until the vehicles are legalized in New York.
The pilot would have the scooters primarily in the downtown area and would keep them out of the neighborhoods in the hills. This is to ensure that no one takes one and goes rocketing down one of the hills, which could lead to serious injuries. A few people during public comment pointed out that scooters have led to quite a few injuries in other cities, in addition to the scooters themselves being mistreated.
Alderperson Cynthia Brock had some misgivings about the program because there is no legislative guidelines in the City of Ithaca Vehicle and Traffic Code for Ithaca Police Department (IPD) officers to uphold. Mayor Myrick spoke on behalf of Acting IPD Chief Dennis Nayor, saying IPD should be consulted on the proposed amendments to the Vehicle and Traffic Code that would apply to e-scooters. Alderperson Donna Fleming felt the program’s risk, such as injuries to riders and pedestrians and clutter, didn’t outweigh the benefits.
“I can so easily imagine someone careening down Buffalo Street and cracking his/her [head/ skull] open after a fall,” Fleming said. “Currently, we do not have strong enough infrastructure to mitigate those risks, such as sufficient IPD staff to ticket sidewalk-riders, extensive bike lanes, and pot-hole free streets. I was also concerned about reports indicating that the lifespan of a scooter is short. The benefits seem to me to be mostly recreational. I haven't seen data from other cities that show a significant reduction in single-occupancy vehicle miles traveled, or of people finding them extraordinarily useful for the ‘last mile,’ e.g. from a bus stop to home or to work. Furthermore, I believe that we should not undertake any more pilot programs in the city without specifying the criteria by which we would evaluate the pilot to make a final decision.”
Additionally, Fleming felt there could be conflicting anecdotes from residents on the pilot program; however, this would not be enough to replace hard data. Other ideas proposed to keep the resolution alive were to table the measure until the spring of 2020, though many Common Councilors felt that wasn’t the right way to go about this. Brock later pointed out that the scooters have a much shorter life span of three months as opposed to e-bikes. Jeff Goodmark, operations manager of Lime, said even though geofencing would be in place for the motorized scooters, this would not prevent someone from riding one of these scooters uphill manually.
In the end, the resolution was amended to have the mayor and staff do more research into the program and have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) prepared for the councilors to vote on. The Common Council approved the program 6 to 2, with Donna Fleming and Laura Lewis opposed and Deborah Mohlenhoff absent. This also means having a discussion with Nayor about the amendments to the Vehicle and Traffic Code.