False alarm: e-scooters won’t hit Philly until 2019

Over the weekend, Philly Twitter lit up in bright green with reports that Lime, an electric scooter and dockless-bike share company, had begun operations in town.

But those e-scooters that showed up on Lime’s app will need a bit more time to ripen before Philadelphians can pluck them for quick rides around town. According to Aaron Ritz, transportation systems planner with the city’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (OTIS), those vehicles appeared on the app due to a small technical mishap, not because they were ready to ride.

“It was a false alarm,” Ritz said. OTIS is currently drafting regulations to govern the operations of companies like Lime and expects to hold a public hearing on those rules sometime before the end of October. While Lime did not respond to a request for comment, Ritz said that the company assured him they intended to comply with the city’s licensing regime. “There are no plans [by Lime] to launch scooters or bikes without a permit in place,” said Ritz.

Ritz hesitated to say exactly when the regulations might be finalized following the public hearing later this month. He suggested it was unlikely that the city would begin issuing permits before spring 2019.

According to Ritz, the false alarm sounded out of a Philadelphia warehouse Lime rented in anticipation of getting a permit. In the interim, the company is using the space to store e-scooters destined for other cities on the East Coast. When a shipment of scooters arrived over the weekend, Lime employees turned them on to ensure they were working, and when that happened, they accidentally showed up on Lime’s app as if available to rent and ride, Ritz said. Lime assured Ritz that they would prevent incidents of mistaken e-scooter availability going forward.

City Council passed an ordinance introduced by Councilmember Mark Squilla authorizing a regulatory scheme for dockless-bike share, electric scooters and other rentable, small vehicles over the summer. If Lime or one of its competitors tried to launch before obtaining a permit or license from the city pursuant to those regulations, then the city would act swiftly to shut them down, said Ritz. “Our steps would be pretty clear in those cases: If someone launches in a rogue manner, then it’s a pretty straightforward process of issuing a cease-and-desist letter, and, if not compliant, sending out crews to enforce that and impound vehicles.”

Ritz said he was flooded with emails and calls over the weekend. “Everybody got real excited, which tell us that folks are really eager for these, [and] we’re certainly eager to keep up on the [regulatory] process,” he said.

The regulations will address issues such as how many bikes or scooters a company can operate, safe operating procedures, information sharing with the city, and how the companies will promote equitable distribution of the vehicles throughout the city’s neighborhoods.

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