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Electric Scooter

Spin, based in California, is one of several companies deploying dockless, electric scooters in cities such as Cleveland.

The Lincoln City Council approved a pilot program to bring electric scooters downtown, even as members acknowledged it could be a bad idea. 

"I'm a fan of this because I think it’s better than doing nothing at all," Councilman James Michael Bowers said. 

On a 6-1 vote, Bowers and others on the council supported the ordinance because it bans scooter companies from coming to Lincoln if they're not part of the pilot program. 

The program, overseen by the Lincoln Transportation and Utilities Department, would allow up to three companies to rent their dockless scooters here. 

The program would likely begin in 2020, as city staff seeks to develop the specific operating rules with the interested companies.

It would end Dec. 31, 2020. 

Councilman Roy Christensen, who cast the lone opposing vote, said he didn't believe any community that brought in scooters had a "net-positive."

He worried about the safety of pedestrians, saying scooter users will ride them illegally on the sidewalks. 

And he worried about people driving drunk on them. 

The ordinance was amended Monday at the suggestion of the City Law Department to clarify that Nebraska's motor vehicle laws apply to scooter operators. 

City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick said the change ensures drunk driving laws apply to those operating scooters.  

Councilwoman Tammy Ward, who represents downtown Lincoln, heard concerns about the ordinance and scooter safety.

She amended the proposal and raised the age to operate a scooter from 16 to 18 years old, in an attempt to ensure safe usage. 

"I want to make sure we do it right," Ward said. 

She heard concerns from some of her downtown constituents worried about the scooters, and is mindful of that. 

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At a public hearing last week and in letters to the council, people have expressed concern that users would ride scooters on the sidewalks and endanger pedestrians. 

But the pilot program gives the city a way to control the popular new transportation mode, she said.

"I want Lincoln to keep pace," Ward said. 

Christensen sought to delay the vote one month so council members could talk with their counterparts in Omaha, who have their own pilot program they have considered ending because of safety concerns.

He withdrew that motion after city staff said they've been following Omaha's program, and several other council members said they had enough information to vote. 

Testimony last week about the rash of head injuries by scooter users in Austin, Texas, concerned Council Chair Jane Raybould, who said "on the surface (this) sounds like a really bad idea."

But enacting the pilot program blocks nonpermitted scooter companies from dumping operational scooters in Lincoln, as has happened in other cities, leading to problems, she said.

City Planning Director David Cary, who helped develop the ordinance, said several companies in the last year have delayed coming to Lincoln, knowing the city was working on this framework.

One company, Spin, has already expressed interest in launching its scooters in Lincoln. 

Spin, a Ford Motors subsidiary, has scooters in 53 cities and on 17 college campuses, including Purdue University, the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota of the Big Ten.

Specifics on where the scooters would be allowed in Lincoln will be worked out as part of the pilot project, but expectations are that they would only be on streets and bike lanes in the downtown area.

In May, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln implemented a policy requiring people on bikes, scooters or mopeds to dismount and walk alongside their device in certain areas of campus during the day. 

Councilman Bennie Shobe reluctantly voted for the ordinance to provide another transportation option for young adults with the hope they will operate them safely.  

"This is an opportunity for all of you to show us your better nature," Shobe said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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