In late 2019, the Town of Leesburg established rules that would permit e-scooter companies to start operations in town. Now that the first application has been submitted, Town Council members are expressing reservations about unleashing the enterprise.
Bird, a micro-electric mobility company that operates throughout the U.S. and Europe, is seeking to be up and running this summer in Leesburg’s historic district. The town’s ordinance doesn’t establish the annual fee for the required permit, so the council is scheduled to hold a July 11 public hearing on that issue. Once the permit fee is established, the boundaries of the deployment zones are approved, and operation permit with proof of insurance is inked, Bird would be able to start operations.
During a briefing on the issue Monday night, council members said they’ve seen a lot of problems with scooter programs in other cities and towns, including areas littered with discarded scooters and bicycles. And they raised concerns about adding scooters to the narrow downtown streets and sidewalks.
Some council members suggested making the permit fee as high as possible and the number of scooters permitted as low as possible.
Mayor Kelly Burk suggested a fee as high as $10,000 for the permit and limit as low as two for the cap on scooters.
“I don’t think this is appropriate to be in the historic district. I don’t think our streets are wide enough. I think there is a lot of traffic. I think this is an accident waiting to happen,” she said.
However, Town Attorney Christopher P. Spera cautioned the council to not unduly restrict a business that otherwise complies with the ordinance and the state code. He suggested the town first collect data from the operation, perhaps in a pilot program status, and then determine if additional restrictions are needed.
Councilman Zach Cummings, a candidate for the 13th District state senate seat next year, said the problem stems from the General Assembly’s 2019 action that required localities to establish ordinances for shared bicycle and scooter programs by Jan. 1, 2020, or surrender the authority to regulate them at all.
“This is just another example of the Dillion Rule and the legislature forcing their thoughts and their ideas on local municipalities where they shouldn’t be. There is no reason that the state legislature should push us or any municipality to allow these arbitrarily within their borders,” he said.
The town is likely to adopt a pilot project approach that would set some lower program parameters to start and allow the town to identify the problem areas. Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel and other staff members are meeting with leaders in other area localities, including Manassas and Arlington, to learn more about how their programs work and what limits they set.
Under the application, the rental scooter use would be limited to the downtown area. Patrons rent the scooters using an app and pick them up a one of a number of designated collection—or nesting—sites around the area. Bird uses geo-fencing technology that shuts off the motors if users go out of bounds.
According to the staff report, the town may regulate how many scooters are permitted be in a specific area. For example, the City of Manassas program has 100 deployed Bird scooters, but only 20 scooters are allowed in the core downtown. The town may restrict scooters from streets during specific events such as the Flower and Garden Festival or TASTE.