Atlanta’s E-scooter Controversy

Atlanta once allowed all e-scooters on its streets, resulting in over 4,000 of them littering sidewalks and blocking pathways. Photo by Trent Legaspi | The Signal

The city of Atlanta is infamous among Americans for its heavy traffic and ongoing issues with public transportation. 

A 2019 study found that Atlanta ranks as one of the worst cities in the United States for public transport and commuting by car. Most commuters must travel for almost an hour on MARTA’s monorail or bus system to reach their destination.

With expensive and time-consuming public transportation serving as the only option for most Atlanta citizens, a group of companies released a niche substitute: electric scooters. In 2018, the bright vehicles began to line sidewalks all over the city, sometimes blocking pedestrian paths or doorways. 

For many, they were a welcome alternative to streets clogged with traffic and public transportation that kept them waiting for hours. Others, in cities across the country, quickly became skeptical of their viability and voiced safety concerns. 

In 2019, a San Diego man tripped over one of the devices, causing one of his existing conditions to worsen significantly. That same year, Atlanta led the nation in e-scooter related fatalities, according to Curbed.

In mid-2019, the Atlanta City Council passed a law that limited e-scooter use. The legislation prevents users from riding and parking on sidewalks and requires new companies to obtain permits before placing products on the street. 

“One of our goals is making car ownership optional in the city,” said Josh Rowan, City of Atlanta Department of Transportation Commissioner, in a press release

The City of Atlanta initially allowed four companies – Bird, Veo, Spin, and Helbiz – to provide alternative transportation options in Atlanta, including the infamous e-scooters and bikes. There were over 4,000 of the devices on Atlanta’s streets, quickly resulting in oversaturation.

To keep up with shifting legislation and remain in the picture, e-scooter companies changed their policies and products to conform to new legislation and safety concerns. Bird e-scooters, for example, once beeped loudly to encourage drivers to move off the sidewalks. In late 2021, they developed the technology to make the scooters stop on sidewalks, preventing disturbances to pedestrians.

“Riders traveling on a sidewalk receive both an audible alert as well as a mobile notification, and the vehicle is brought safely and smoothly to a stop by removing throttle,” the company stated in a press release.

In May 2021, Atlanta took further action to limit the number of scooters on the streets when they revisited the companies allowed to provide the scooters. They revoked Helbiz’s license but reintroduced Lime to the city, leaving Bird, Lime and Spin.

“We continuously evaluate our program structure and adjust the number of companies and devices to develop the best service for Atlanta,” Kemberli Sargent, a Vision Zero Manager for Atlanta Department of Transportation, said in an interview with Times News Network. 

“Our goal for a successful program includes providing a meaningful transportation option for people while also prioritizing ADA access and pedestrian safety.”