Scooter advocates, critics weigh in as Nashville inches closer to a scooter ban

Posted at 6:43 AM, Jun 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-20 08:09:02-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville Metro Council passed a bill on first reading to ban scooters in the metro area at their last meeting.

The scooters have been controversial almost as soon as they came to the city. Vanderbilt University Medical Center has treated over 250 patients injured in scooter accidents as of February 2019. In May, 26-year-old Brady Gaulke died after a car hit him while riding a scooter.

Improperly parked scooters make it difficult for people with disabilities to get around. James Boehm says it's also more dangerous. He's the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nashville and legally blind himself. He doesn't necessarily want the scooters banned, but says something has to change.

Before graduation, you could often find Boehm and his guide dog, Bogey, around Vanderbilt University's campus.

"I started noticing more and more students and others leaving scooters in the way and preventing me from entering buildings, going to my classes or going the routes I've learned to navigate around campus," Boehm said.

He's only tripped a few times, but other people who are visually impaired, like Angeline Morris, haven't been so lucky. She shattered her leg back in December 2018 walking to work at the Andrew Jackson State Office Building downtown. She's had multiple surgeries and still doesn't expect to be back to work for another month.

"It’s sad that it's something that could be avoided," Boehm said.

He also serves on Mayor David Briley's Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities. They've shared concerns with the mayor about the scooters creating hazards.

This week scooter companies outlined 19 safety policies they plan to adopt--that is if Metro Council doesn't ban them first.

"Waiting a couple months for these things to be implemented, what's going to happen? More people are going to get injured," Boehm said.

Boehm says the mistake was made when scooter companies dropped down almost 5,000 scooters without these guidelines already in place, but still sees a chance for positive change.

"We're at a crossroads where now we have the opportunity to take something that could potentially be good and make sure it's done right and implemented correctly and safely for everyone," Boehm said.

Regular scooter riders see the benefit in keeping them around. Walk Bike Nashville just released a new scooter report saying there have been almost two million scooter rides in Nashville since they first came to the city. About 500 commuters, like Michelle Ivey, depend on the scooters almost every day.

In the last few months, Ivey went from living in her car to an apartment near Belmont. She works multiple jobs to make ends meet.

She took her first scooter ride on a cold January day after getting off the bus downtown.

"I found the scooter and I went ahead know got the app and everything and then rode it down there," Ivey said. "I just really liked it."

Ivey liked it so much, she started riding as much as 30 miles a day.

"In the mornings between six and 10, I’ll do Postmates," Ivey said, "because my Postmates is set up to go on a bike, I'll use the scooters instead. I will take it to wherever they want me to go and then drop off food."

By 10 a.m., it's time to head to Antioch for her other job.

"I’ll grab the scooter again and I'll take it down to the bus depot so I can hop on the bus to take the bus to work," Ivey said.

Ivey even uses the scooter to roll her laundry to the laundromat.

"I have this giant tote and I stick it on the scooter and away we go," Ivey said.

The scooters aren't just convenient for Ivey. They save her a lot of money. She signed up for Lyft's Community Pass program which allows unlimited scooting for just $5 to Nashville riders with a low income.

A scooter ban would increase her commute by a half hour. Ivey says even though she has a bike, it would slow her Postmates deliveries down too. She finds the scooters to be safe as long as people operate them how they're supposed to.

"There’s better ways to make the scooters work than just to outright ban them. I think we need better bike lanes, for sure. Even on a bicycle it’s still dangerous," Ivey said. "You potentially go faster on a bicycle than you do a scooter, so, I mean, what’s the difference?"

Back in May, Mayor Briley issued a 30 day notice to scooter companies to improve safety or they would be banned. Following the letter from the scooter companies with their proposed safety guidelines, a spokesperson for the mayor said he “is reviewing the letter and will make a decision soon regarding scooters in our city.”

The bill going through Metro Council to potentially ban scooters will move on to a second reading.