Weekly Links

While Athens Bans E-Scooters, Atlanta Opts for $12,000 Permits

Weekly Links: brief commentary on local, state, and national stories from (roughly) the past week

 

Transportation/Atlanta

Got a Scooter? You’ll Need a Permit for That

From The AJC. Weeks after Athens decided to place a moratorium on e-scooters (or dockless scooters) while it decides how to regulate them, the Atlanta City Council introduced several new rules for scooter companies. For those unfamiliar, e-scooters are electric scooters that can be rented by the public and left anywhere – no need to return them to any hub or dock. People then sign-up to collect the scooters at night, charge them, and place them around town in designated areas.

Under the new Atlanta rules, scooter companies will now be required to obtain a $12,000 permit to operate 500 scooters in the city with each additional scooter costing $50. Scooters must be parked upright in a manner that allows 5 feet of space for pedestrians on sidewalks. Additionally, top speeds will be limited to 15 miles-per-hour. Companies must also work to educate riders on safety and proper use. Violations carry maximum penalties of up to $1,000 per day.

Scooters go a long way in solving the “last mile problem” – that is, they help bridge the gap between a person’s precise location and transit stops. However, since e-scooters do not need to be parked or returned to any specific hub, they are often strewn about sidewalks either from being negligently parked or from being knocked down.

As the Washington Post reported in a recent edition of their Post Reports podcast, e-scooters also pose fairly severe health hazards to riders. Devices are sometimes poorly maintained, which leads to problems with brakes and accelerators. Riders are also forced to share roads with cars, which presents obvious health issues. Several e-scooter companies were recently sued in California for negligence related to many of these problems.

The big question will be if fines are actually assessed for violations and if those fines are hefty enough to encourage scooter companies to get serious about maintenance and safety issues. Of course, cities also have an obligation to create less auto-oriented communities so cyclists, scooter riders, and pedestrians don’t have to share space with cars. Athens is patiently waiting to see how things go.


Government

Where’s All the Crops?

From Bloomberg. A government shutdown does indeed have real consequences beyond hundreds of thousands of federal workers losing pay. The US Department of Agriculture will delay the release of its monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, which means the market has no reliable data to use in planning for the coming year. January’s report would have shown crop yields from last year, which is heavily relied upon by the industry. On top of that, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has delayed the release of important weather and climate data.

Like many other things, buying and selling your house also becomes more difficult when part of the government isn’t functioning. Many homes are financed by government-backed loans (FHA, USDA, VA, etc), which means transactions are placed on hold when few people are working at the agencies processing applications and payoffs for those loans. The same can be said for deals involving homes that need flood insurance policies.


Law/Environment

Supreme Court Allows Exxon Climate Change Documents to Be Released

From Vox. Decades ago scientists and researchers at Exxon warned company executives that burning fossil fuels would lead to a warming of the climate. Despite this, the company publicly fought against regulations designed to curb carbon emissions and worked to encourage doubt among the public regarding emissions and climate change.

Turns out it may be illegal to deceive investors. The Massachusetts attorney general ordered a civil investigation of the company in 2016, which triggers the release of certain internal documents. The company then claimed that Massachusetts has no jurisdiction to do this since the company isn’t headquartered in that state. However, companies need only have certain connections and business operations within states in order for those states to assert some degree of jurisdiction. The Massachusetts high court disagreed with Exxon’s analysis, which led the company to appeal directly to the US Supreme Court.

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal, which effectively allows the investigation to continue and internal documents to be released. While the denial to hear Exxon’s case has no bearing on the actual merits of the case and we have no idea why the Court decided not to take the case (opinions aren’t generally written in denials to hear cases), it does mean that Massachusetts and other states can continue investigating deceptive practices of large multi-national companies.

 

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