City council is weighing an ordinance to take possession of the dockless electric scooter market coming to Chattanooga.
The 13-page ordinance in a first reading passed by one vote, 5 to 4, with an amendment to increase the minimum user age. The opponents acted on the belief that a no vote would effectively ban the arrival of operators such as Lime and Bird.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
A free city, if Chattanooga were one, would have none of it. It would not be debating an ordinance whatsoever. A free city whose residents elected freedom-oriented council members would vote no on any bid to control upon a free market and entrepreneurial development highly favorable to people with little money.
The no vote of council member Ken Smith is a right vote for the wrong reason. Their no vote is not for liberty, but to ban the digital economy in self-propulsion. They hold that the proposed strictures are inadequate to protect the public interest, health, safety and welfare.
Chattanooga already recognizes the free use of cars and trucks by people in the city limits. The city regulates only the for-hire use of cars through its department of transportation, which licenses taxis. City government, at least insofar as the city attorney’s office goes, recognizes the free use of the roads by private traveling people.
The scooter ordinance would have the city regulate not just the operator in commerce, but the user as well through the theory that the user, in renting a scooter, is himself involved in transportation, that the user is carrying goods or people for hire and subject to police power.
The proposal makes a distinction between the regulated entity, the operator, and the user, which is the citizen who hops onto of the devices by use of his smartphone connected with a credit card account at the operators.
Patronizing council plan
And yet the ordinance has a very patronizing view of operators and lays down all kinds of rules for provisions and care that would be done anyway by any organization in a service business. For example, a Chattanooga website. A Chattanooga physical presence.
Already the city bans the use of the Internet among those who would use their private homes as landing pads for visitors to stay in thanks to a short-term vacation rental. The city bans the use of the Internet for people to want to be connected with Airbnb, HomeAway and other platforms that allow connections to be made and visitors to be brought into the city on a budget.
Lime and Bird are Internet platforms that allow for decentralization of movement, or, as some might say, of transportation.
The impulse that leads the city to regulate Airbnb and ban the use of the Internet in large parts of the city is the same one behind the scooter ordinance. And that is the public health, safety and welfare rubric. People on scooters may have accidents, so the rule is thought to affect a public interest in the regulation of operator and user.
People may have accidents, and sometimes scooters are left at the end of a person’s trip just lying about, a kind of mess or litter. Reports of such careless tossing aside of scooters in other cities gives rise to the council plan.
Restoring human scale to movement
The scooter service is an decentralization in the world of human self-propulstion and self-locomotion, of low-cost personal communication and travel. In an era where cities have been built around the car, the scooter marketplace is an attempt to direct the growth of cities toward a more human scale.
Cities today are designed around cars with interchanges and highways and large spaces that are created for the ostensible safe use of cars operating at high speed.
The Lime model of self-propulsion allows the poorest people to get from Point A to Point B quickly and very cheaply. And without the investment or expense of having to own a car. Scooters bring automobility to anyone with a phone and a credit card, which are ubiquitous even among poor people.
The scooter services give a break to poor people, and to people at the university and in the city center, avoiding auto congestion and engine exhaust.
The ordinance looks as though it will pass, and suggestions in the press are that the operators don’t want to come into a city if there is legal uncertainty about business operations. Corporations are uneasy with liberty, and favor a regulatory framework of some kind. Rules that give legal structure for first arrivals gives incumbents the advantage, and work anti-competitively on later arrivals.
Chattanooga is styled the Gig City. Let its ideas about free markets be as advanced as its technology, and not retrograde.