Politics & Government

Wichita lets up on personal electric scooters and skateboards, at least for now

A week after hearing complaints from local scooter enthusiasts and commuters, the Wichita City Council cleared the way Tuesday for hundreds, possibly thousands of rental electric scooters to be deployed on Wichita streets.

The council made its new eScooter ordinance apply only to commercial rentals, but members also signaled they’re not finished yet and intend to circle back with regulation of personally owned powered scooters and skateboards.

Zagster, the company that provides the bikes for Bike Share ICT, has said that it would deploy 500 rental scooters as soon as two weeks after final approval of the ordinance. Gotcha, another scooter company, has also indicated a strong interest in coming to the market.

The council approved an ordinance two weeks ago establishing rules for using e-Scooters in the city, with an eye toward regulating rental scooters, which have become a popular way to motor around urban areas across the country.

But that got pushback from owners who have invested hundreds or even thousands of dollars in their own scooters and skateboards and use them for commuting and work.

They were upset by provisions of the new scooter ordinance that would have banned eScooters from sidewalks and streets with speed limits over 35 mph, and prohibited their use after dark.

The users said that wouldn’t hurt too much downtown, but it would make scooters practically unusable for commuting in suburban city neighborhoods where speed limits are higher and bike paths are few.

As a stopgap to let the rental companies come in, the council simply wrote personally owned eScooters out of the ordinance before final approval Tuesday.

But council member James Clendenin and Mayor Jeff Longwell said those need more scrutiny and some regulation, especially when it comes to using them at night.

“Doing it without reflectors or lights or any type of safety equipment, you’re just asking for someone to get hurt,” Longwell said.

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.