Scooter startup says Richmond’s proposed $40,000 license fee likely nonstarter

Richmond employees scooped up dockless, electric rental scooters dropped around the city by Bird. It was the second day in a row the company had put out scooters and the city impounded them. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury – Aug. 17, 2018)

If you’ve been following the entry of the electric scooter rental industry into Virginia, you know there’s Bird Rides, which has taken a brute force approach to doing business in Norfolk and Richmond, paying thousands in impound fees just to put its scooters back on the streets to get impounded again.

Then there’s Lime, which has been waiting quietly in the wings for local governments to set up a regulatory framework within which they can operate on solid legal footing.

Well, Lime got its first peek at what officials in Richmond are thinking, and they’re not encouraged.

Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration introduced an ordinance creating a pilot program that would limit the number of scooters any company could put out on the streets to 100. To get the permit, the companies would have to pay $40,000 a year. (Though it’s not included in the text of the ordinance itself, the draft application includes allowances for a 100 to 200 scooter operation for $60,000 a year and 200 to 400 scooters for $80,000.)

A lobbyist representing Lime, Ryan O’Toole, said that while the company is excited to work with the city, “we are concerned though that the mayor’s current proposal, which includes high fees and a low vehicle cap, may keep us out of Richmond altogether. These costs are ultimately borne by riders — putting accessible, sustainable transportation options beyond the reach of those who need them most.”

They said they’ll work with Stoney’s administration and the City Council to try to make the pilot workable for them.

Bird, meanwhile, just keeps putting out scooters. The company insists that it’s operating legally, disagreeing with the city’s assertion that their business violates sidewalk encroachment ordinances.

A check of their smartphone app Thursday showed over a hundred scooters available to be rented right off the sidewalk, more than 20 of which show up in the impound lot of the city’s towing contractor, Seibert’s.

The company’s general manager has declined to say how many of the scooters they’ve collected or how much Bird has paid to get them out of impound, though he acknowledged it was a large sum. A City Hall source put the number in the thousands of dollars.

In Norfolk, it sounds like the city isn’t giving the scooters back until they work out an agreement with the company. “They’ll be locked and stored until we can work with the company on a solution,” a Norfolk spokeswoman told The Virginian-Pilot.