New law could mean a comeback for electric scooters in Alabama

New law could mean a comeback for electric scooters in Alabama
Bird is one of several companies making the electric scooters popular in some American cities. A new Alabama law clears the way for its city governments to allow the scooters if they wish. (Cam.wu/Wikimedia Commons)

Last year, electric scooters rolled in – and then quickly out – of some Alabama cities after it became clear they were not street-legal under state law.

But a bill approved by the Alabama Legislature, and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, may clear the way for a scooter comeback.

E-scooters from companies such as Bird, Lime and Uber’s JUMP have wheeled into large cities across the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago. The state of New York is on the verge of legalizing e-scooters. They’ve invaded European cities, too, along with local competitors such as Sweden’s voi and Wind in Germany. U.S. scooter startups also are giving it a go, such as Verve in Philadelphia and Skip in Washington, D.C.

Last summer, Bird swooped in to Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Auburn and Homewood before having its two-wheelers rounded up by local authorities. But now, Alabama has given the green light to “micromobility device systems,” as the recently approved legislation calls them, to be used on Alabama roadways.

Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities, said he is aware of at least 10 cities in the state that are exploring the possibilities around e-scooters. Under the just-approved law, cities have the authority to regulate the devices.

He said the resurgence in downtowns and downtown living are driving interest in expanding ways people can conveniently travel shorter distances around Alabama’s urban centers.

In Birmingham, city boosters are bullish about the prospect.

David Fleming, with the nonprofit economic development group REV Birmingham, said e-scooters not only provide an attractive option for people to get around the city’s revitalizing urban core, they also can be a tool for helping recruit millennials and businesses while also supporting local tourism.

For the past four years, REV has operated the Zyp bikeshare system in downtown and in-town Birmingham neighborhoods. The most popular bikes in the Zyp system are electric-assisted. The Alabama Power Foundation is among the supporters of Zyp.

“Zyp has proved that Birmingham wants mobility options, and will use them,” Fleming said. He said the new legislation is generating renewed interest from several scooter companies that are eyeing the Birmingham market. Some of those companies also offer bike-sharing systems that potentially could replace Zyp over time.

“We’re excited that multiple operators of bikes, scooters and other modes of transportation now want to bring their vehicles to Birmingham and we’re helping to get them here,” Fleming said. “Bikes and other forms of personal transportation create vibrancy in business districts and support recruitment and retention of businesses and talent. That’s our mission, and we think this is the next step in Birmingham’s evolution.”

Fleming said REV is already working with the city and other potential partners on rules that would allow multiple private operators to coexist. Regulations could be in place in time for scooter and other alternate transportation companies to begin operating in Birmingham next year.

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