STARKVILLE — A public hearing on electric scooter use regulations in the city limits Tuesday evening turned into a back-and-forth discussion focused primarily on age requirements and how broadly the rules should apply.
The board of aldermen held its first of two public hearings Tuesday on an ordinance to regulate electric scooters. The ordinance is separate from an agreement with Bird, an electric scooter ride-sharing service, that the board approved at its July 6 meeting to work in the city within particular parameters the company must follow.
This ordinance comes after several complaints from Starkville residents about the misuse of the devices, such as riding them down highways and sidewalks and users operating them under the influence. The aldermen banned Bird scooters a second time June 25 after overturning Mayor Lynn Spruill’s veto of the original ban, but after citizen complaints on both sides of the issue, they are looking into different alternatives to keep these electric scooters in town.
While the agreement applies strictly to Bird, the ordinance would apply to all electric scooter use in the city limits, specifying a list of requirements, such as where to ride, how fast to ride, mandating only one person per scooter and no driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“All of these terms are up for (the board’s) consideration and debate and discussion between this first public hearing and the second public hearing if the board wants to move forward,” board attorney Chris Latimer said.
The ordinance would also apply to all types of scooters, including privately-owned electric scooters, not just commercial or ride-sharing devices.
The largest topic of debate Tuesday within the ordinance was the age requirement. While riders of Bird scooters must be 18 years old through the company agreement, the ordinance does not specify a minimum age for scooter users.
If the board decides to require an age restriction for all scooters within the ordinance, children or teenagers who own an electric scooter could not legally use them anymore until they reach the age requirement. Ward 5 Alderman Hamp Beatty said he believes scooters should have an age requirement because he has seen multiple accounts of teenagers riding Bird scooters down the street.
“These are being used for joyriding,” Beatty said. “… I would say a significant amount of people using them would be under the age of (18).”
If passed, violators of the ordinance would have to adhere to the general penalties in the Starkville Code of Enforcement, resulting in a potential $1,000 maximum fine or a maximum 90 days imprisonment. While enforcement rules are stated within the ordinance, Sistrunk, who has been in continuous support of keeping the Bird scooters in town, said she is concerned with how Starkville Police Department can handle violators.
“I’m concerned about enforcement,” Sistrunk said. “I’m concerned about us putting this additional enforcement requirement on a police force that is already stretched pretty thin with more serious crimes, with more serious traffic issues, those sorts of things.”
The board will hold its second public hearing and potentially vote for the ordinance at its Aug. 3 meeting.
Auto burglaries up since juvenile curfew began
After the board approved a juvenile curfew June 15, SPD has been keeping juveniles off the streets during late hours of the night.
In fact, when Chief Mark Ballard presented aldermen with statistics for the first month since the curfew was enacted, he said only two juveniles had been caught breaking it — one with a history of misconduct.
However, auto burglaries, which Ballard hoped the juvenile curfew would alleviate, have instead increased.
Since the curfew began, 24 auto burglaries with 10 stolen weapons have been reported, Ballard said. That’s up from 20 auto burglaries with nine stolen weapons the month before.
While there has not been a decrease in auto burglaries yet, Ballard said he believes the same suspect is responsible for many of the break-ins.
“Some of this is contributed to most likely an individual that we are looking closely at,” Ballard said. “… We think it is a very active individual that is no longer a juvenile.”