After several months of deliberation, City Hall is pulling out of a “pilot” plan to allow electric scooter rentals on the streets of New Orleans.
The plan would have created rules and regulations for scooters — which have quickly popped up across the U.S. and been followed by controversy — to legally operate in the city, from creating fee and penalty structures to boundaries and parking regulations.
The scooters’ selling point is a “dockless” model, allowing riders to roll up to their destination and rely on a self-locking mechanism allowing them to park anywhere. Three companies — Lime, Bird and Skip — were interested in putting their fleet on New Orleans streets. They argue that scooters close the "first" and "last" mile commute, giving people a quick ride from a parking lot or bus stop to their home or workplace.
District C Councilember Kristin Gisleson Palmer heard a pitch from Lime and helped prepare several drafts of a pilot with Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration earlier this year.
But City Hall isn’t ready to move forward with a legal infrastructure that allows scooters on the streets without first having a supportive infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians and other public transit, according to a spokesperson with Palmer’s office. New Orleans streets and lack of a supportive culture of sharing the road haven’t paved the way for scooters to enter the mix, according to the spokesperson.
With input from Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration, District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer is drafting three ordinances to regul…
In a statement, Cantrell said the "potential complications for public safety are too high for us to move forward" with a pilot program.
"As we continue to improve the City's infrastructure, we will place ourselves in a better position to incorporate transportation alternatives in the coming years," she said. "The City cannot support the electric scooter implementation at this time."
In a statement, Palmer added that, "In a city that is still working to establish a safe infrastructure and culture for bicycles, introducing hundreds of new small vehicles like the scooters would only serve to complicate these efforts."
"Additionally, we do not believe the nearly 18 million visitors who come to New Orleans each year can be properly educated about the specific rules the pilot proposed," she said.
Last week, scooter company Lime — which first publicly pitched the idea of bringing scooters to New Orleans at a City Council committee hearing in June — sent a letter to Cantrell and Palmer asking for movement on a pilot plan.
Andrew Savage, the company’s vice president of development, wrote that the company laid off five of its 20 employees staffing its warehouse where scooters would be stored.
Savage also said the company believes current laws already allow scooter rentals, but “at the request of with the Mayor’s Director of Transportation and the City Council we agreed to wait to launch our e-scooters in New Orleans in anticipation of design and passage of a pilot program that showed a true partnership with the city.”
Some scooter companies have put their scooters on the streets in other cities without first having those cities’ permission, igniting several debates and legal challenges. Palmer’s office says the city’s Department of Safety & Permits is prepared to remove scooters from the streets, if those companies do decide to launch in New Orleans without City Hall’s approval.
Last month, the City Council passed a measure that gives the city permission to remove scooters (as well as bicycles and other mode of transit) left in public rights-of-way if they’re not locked to bike racks or in designated parking. The measure signaled some movement on teeing up a scooter pilot, which never was fully introduced outside of discussions on a draft at council committee meetings.
“Unfortunately, this process has been delayed time and time again and we are concerned that you are not able to offer a timeline for passage of the pilot that we believed was being finalized in cooperation with our company and others like ours interested in New Orleans,” Savage writes in the letter.
Savage also writes that if no action is taken at City Hall within the next month, Lime likely will close its warehouse and lay off its remaining 15 employees. “As a business interested in working in New Orleans we can no longer tolerate the uncertainty caused by the lack of progress toward passage of a pilot program,” the letter says.
In a follow-up interview earlier this week, Lime’s Todd O’Boyle told Gambit that though the company is frustrated with the lack of momentum on the pilot, he was hopeful there would be some legislative movement.
Palmer’s office hasn’t ruled out that scooters could potentially be introduced to New Orleans, but only on the condition that the city first prioritize transit projects and transit infrastructure for residents relying on public transit and other non-car transportation.
A man in board shorts rolls his motorized scooter into the camera as the words fly across the screen: “The smart mobility revolution is here.”
This story was updated with statements from Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer and Mayor LaToya Cantrell.