OP-ED: N.C. cities want to be tech hubs — but punish innovative companies

OP-ED: N.C. cities want to be tech hubs — but punish innovative companies
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Charlotte and other North Carolina cities desperately want the jobs and prestige that come with landing an investment from tech companies like Amazon and Apple.

But with the track record these cities have with innovative companies, is it any wonder we keep striking out?

For the past half-decade, city council members in Charlotte and other N.C. cities have proposed taxes, regulations and fees designed to cripple darlings of the new tech economy who want to do business here.

The latest target? Urban mobility companies like Lime and Bird, which manage fleets of electric scooters and bikes that cut down on car trips in congested areas.

Airbnb, Uber and Lyft have so far managed to stay in operation in most of North Carolina by appealing to the state legislature. A similar state law regulating but protecting e-scooter and bike share companies is in the works.

But local efforts to curtail these tech companies continue.

North Carolina’s largest cities have proposed or enacted massive fees on these companies that threaten their ability to stay in operation.

  • Asheville has essentially made Airbnb illegal, suing one host for about $1 million in fines.
  • Raleigh is considering rules that prohibit Airbnb hosts from renting their entire house, renting a garage apartment or renting a space without the property owner being present.
  • A Charlotte city council member called Uber and Lyft part of a “rogue” and sought to reign them in before state law took that power away from cities.
  • Raleigh has implemented a $300 per scooter fee on Lime and Bird. Durham has a $100 fee and Greensboro has a $50 fee. Bird has responded to Raleigh’s fee by passing along a $2 per trip charge to riders.

Charlotte’s City Council is likely to provide the latest example at its meeting Monday evening.

What is Charlotte considering for e-scooter regulations?

According to a draft ordinance up for debate, Charlotte is proposing a new slate of rules that put restrictions in where scooters can be placed, how fast they can go, what types of streets they can be on, when they can ride on sidewalks and how often they must be adjusted.

The city of Charlotte will also charge some sort of fee — though the exact dollar amount isn’t yet known and might fluctuate.

Here are some of the main provisions.

  • Each scooter must have an ID number “visible to the eye at a distance of 10 feet.”
  • Bike share companies must have between 200 and 500 bikes on the roads.
  • Scooter companies must have at least 50 scooters, and the maximum number will fluctuate every 30 days based on the average number of rides per scooter.
  • E-scooters must be physically limited to 15 miles per hour.
  • No scooter trips would be able to begin after 9 p.m.
  • E-scooter companies must inspect, adjust and re-balance the entire fleet each afternoon.
  • Companies must provide the city a monthly log of maintenance activity.
  • Scooters would not be allowed on Uptown sidewalks.
  • Charlotte will explore a “dynamic pricing” fee model in the first quarter.

Other provisions under discussion would require a certain percentage of scooters to be placed in “disadvantaged neighborhoods” each morning and prohibit scooters from streets with a speed limit above 35 miles per hour.

Charlotte has taken some steps in the right direction.

Admirably, Charlotte has taken a less-confrontational approach to e-scooters than other North Carolina cities. They were quick to give them a try, and their rules and fees are less draconian than, say, Raleigh’s.

But you still get the sense that much of the City Council would rather they all just go away.

Instead, Charlotte and the rest of North Carolina’s large cities should consider embracing change and technology. Maybe they’ll be rewarded with a big jobs announcement one day.

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