'We're going to have to deal with it': Walton County moving to regulate 'dadgum' scooters
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County commissioners this week approved a first reading of a proposed ordinance to regulate electric stand-on scooters (e-scooters) and other 'micromobility' devices.
However, the ordinance proposal is likely to change before its scheduled final adoption next month, to call for even tighter control over a proposed pilot program for the rental of e-scooters in at least some areas of the county.
The county is moving toward regulation of e-scooters in the wake of a 2019 state law that allows those scooters to operate under the same rules as bicycles. That law did, however, did give local governments the power to develop their own regulations within the parameters of state law on e-scooter safety and operations. The law also allows local governments to regulate the rental of micromobility devices.
Walton officials have sidestepped enactment of local regulations for months, repeatedly enacting moratoria on e-scooter rentals as the county's focus shifted, on an emergency basis, to dealing with more pressing problems associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis' recent executive order rescinding local emergency declarations associated with the coronavirus pandemic means that the county must have an e-scooter ordinance in place by the end of September.
Commissioner Tony Anderson on Tuesday laid the blame for the county having to deal with the e-scooter issue squarely with the state government, noting that the 2019 law precludes the county from tough action against micromobility devices.
"The reason we're having to do this is because it (allowing for e-scooter operations) has been mandated by the state," Anderson said. Noting that the law does give local governments some options, Anderson went on to say, "The state has once again overridden what the county wants, so we're going to have to deal with it."
"Everyone on this board knows how I feel about these dadgum scooters," Anderson said. "I just hate these things. I think they're dangerous."
Broadly, the ordinance addressed by commissioners Tuesday, developed by the county's legal counsel and planning personnel with input from the public, sets the stage for the county to issue a request for proposals from e-scooter vendors interested in participating in a pilot rental program. The program would last for one year, with subsequent options for renewal for additional 12-month periods.
Interim county attorney Clay Adkinson said the thinking is that regulating the business of e-scooters is more effective than regulating e-scooters themselves. Nothing the county is doing will affect individual ownership and operation of e-scooters.
"Our view is if we regulate a vendor, we have a lot more authority than broadly regulating (e-scooters)," Adkinson said. "What we're trying to do is regulate the commercial activity and the mass influx of these (e-scooters)."
Over time, Adkinson said the county would expect to "learn form this pilot program and evolve it."
Among its provisions, the proposed ordinance would require that a report be prepared for the commission every six months detailing e-scooter rental "ridership, revenues, citations, warnings and any other pertinent information related to continued deployment" of the program.
The proposal, which runs 23 pages, sets strict requirements for e-scooter vending, including that vendors be able to track their e-scooters' locations and that e-scooters be "geo-fenced," meaning that when they travel outside a defined area they are safely rendered inoperable.
Additionally, the proposal requires that vendors provide "corrals" or "docks" for the parking of e-scooters, a provision aimed to keep them from simply being left on streets.
The proposed ordinance also requires vendors to "rebalance" the distribution of their e-scooter stock "throughout the day" to ensure that the devices don't become too concentrated in a particular area and be less available elsewhere.
Vendors also would face stiff fines for running afoul of the rules, with a $250 assessment per involved device for a first offense, a $500 per-device fine for a second offense (within one year of a first offense), and a $1,000 per-device fine for a third offense within a year.
But commissioners noted Tuesday that they wanted even tougher regulations, including strict limits on where e-scooters could be operated, and assurances that the e-scooters, which can be rented via credit card, not be rented to anyone under 18, possibly by requiring that a driver's license be scanned at the time of rental.
Public comment included suggestions from Barbara Morano, a south Walton County resident active in local issues, for changes in allowable operating hours, and in fines for e-scooter riders.
Morano argued that the 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. e-scooter rental time might be too generous. She also suggested that the proposed fines for e-scooter riders violating the ordinance — $20 for a first offense, $40 for a second offense, and $60 for a third offense, with a requirement to attend a safety class — were too lenient in comparison with proposed vendor fines.
To address commissioners' concerns about their perception that the ordinance needs to be tougher, meetings will be scheduled for each commissioner with Adkinson, Walton County Planning Director Mac Carpenter and Kristen Bell, the planning staff member working with the proposed ordinance, to integrate their suggestions into a final document.
That work will have to be done well before the commission's Sept. 28 meeting so that the general public and other interested parties are clear on what the ordinance contains before it is adopted by commissioners. Any proposed changes will be addressed at the commission's Aug. 24 and Sept. 14 meetings.
Anderson suggested that the commission should take e-scooter regulation seriously, on the chance that the state government might otherwise step in.
"I'm afraid we're going to have to give it a really honest try," Anderson said, "or they're (the state government) going to come back and say, 'You're going to do it this way' and they're going to eliminate our restrictions."