Birmingham City Council

New Birmingham Ordinance Could Bring Shared Bikes, Scooters and Such Back to the City

Birmingham City Councilor Valerie Abbott, right, listens as Councilor Darrell O’Quinn makes as point during a Feb. 11, 2020, meeting. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

UPDATED Birmingham City Councilman Darrell O’Quinn completed a 2-year journey Tuesday with the passage of an ordinance that sets the stage for companies that provide rental scooters and bikes or other personal transportation vehicles to operate in the city.

After discussion and then a delay on the vote until the end of the meeting, the ordinance passed unanimously.

“As chairman of the transportation committee, one of the first committee meetings I had actually was inviting in mobility providers to tell us how they operate,” O’Quinn said. “We have been watching this industry unfold and evolve across the country, observing some of the missteps that were made, trying to make sure we don’t encounter the same pitfalls here.”

O’Quinn said the micromobility industry standard for vehicles is bicycles, electric bikes and electric scooters. He said the ordinance passed Tuesday requires vendors to provide one bicycle for every two scooters they want to operate in the city.

“We felt very strongly that having bikes is something we want to retain,” he said. “They’re a better option, I believe, for going longer distances. But the industry is evolving, and they are adding additional platforms, vehicles that look more like a moped than a scooter.

“There are things that haven’t yet been invented that can be used in this arena.”

For the past five years, the Zyp Bike Share service has been available in areas of the city. But it closed operations in December.

During discussion, O’Quinn said micromobility is something that’s been demanded by young professionals in the tech industry, calling it a recruitment and retention tool.

In 2018, more than twice as many trips — 84 million — were taken on shared micromobility vehicles in the U.S. as compared to the year before, according to the National Association of Transportation Officials.

When asked by Councilman John Hilliard, O’Quinn assured his fellow councilors that the city’s fees on companies that provide this mode of transportation will be in line with those of other cities.

The ordinance also puts forth regulations to prohibit the use of micromobility vehicles on sidewalks and pedestrian rights-of-way. The ordinance also allows the city to implement geofencing to prohibit the use of the vehicles in areas such as pedestrian walkways in city parks.

Abbott asked who is responsible for enforcing the law on operation of the vehicles. She also wondered about insurance in case the operator causes an accident.

“I would like answers instead of the promise of future answers,” she said.

Mayor Randall Woodfin confirmed that Birmingham Police will enforce the law and said companies will be required to have insurance.

O’Quinn said there is no law requiring persons riding bicycles to have insurance.

Council President William Parker asked whether delaying a decision on the matter was an option.

“If we pass this ordinance, it’s gone,” Councilman Steven Hoyt warned. “There’s no going back and doing this or that. It done went.”

O’Quinn said there’s plenty of time between the passage of the ordinance Tuesday and the city hammering out details of contracts to be used with vendors.

Woodfin said micromobility is a key to Birmingham competing with other progressive cities.

“Younger people want not only to live close to where they work, but they want to be able to move from point A to B where they work without getting into an actual car,” he said. “To have these options, these forms of transportation for the people you want to attract to your city, this is the kind of thing that gets you an official notch on your belt as far as luring those who you want to come to your city.”