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Electric scooter dumping in Red Cedar River prompts new regulation

A Lime scooter on a sidewalk next to car street parking.
Arjun Thakkar
East Lansing officials recently approved a contract with the company Lime, which offers rentable scooters through an app.

East Lansing is taking preventative measures to discourage people from dumping electric scooters into the Red Cedar River.

Environmental advocates say they’ve removed more than 200 electric scooters from the Red Cedar in the past year. Most come from the company Spin, which distributes e-scooters across East Lansing, allowing users to rent them through an app.

Mike Stout is the president of Michigan Waterways Stewards, an organization that aims to protect the state’s rivers. He said submerging the scooters' lithium-ion batteries in water can cause pollution, and that the hazardous materials pose "ecological safety" issues for the area.

"It's obviously a concern for a number of matters," Stout said.

Michigan Waterways Steward reached out to Spin to offer help in recovering its scooters, but Stout said the company declined.

East Lansing officials reported that Spin had violated other aspects of its contract with the city, including allowing its scooters to be placed in non-designated parking locations, such as in the middle of a sidewalk, and not picking the devices up at agreed upon times.

Those concerns led the City Council to revoke the contract with Spin last month. East Lansing has since adopted a new contract with Lime, which requires the company to report when a scooter has been dumped into the river, notifying a team to remove them within 24 hours.

"The city is taking it seriously, and we want community members to know that they that they are empowered to let us know when they see a scooter being used improperly,” said East Lansing's communications director Carrie Sampson.

Lime will also be required be keep scooters parked at least 500 feet away from designated bridges over the river and create buffer zones limiting where the electric throttle can be used.

Though Spin scooters are no longer allowed on city streets, they are still available for use on the Michigan State University campus, where they've proved to be popular transportation.

Community members took more than 142,000 scooter trips on campus last year, according to a statement from MSU.

"The university has exclusively partnered with Spin for the third year as an affordable, convenient way for our students, faculty and staff to get around campus quickly and efficiently," said MSU spokesperson Mark Bullion.

"Partnering with Spin provides many different benefits to the university, including reducing the number of vehicles and bikes on campus, supporting MSU micro mobility research projects and supporting various campus units and student groups efforts to clean up the Red Cedar River."

Bullion added the school has been partnering with Spin to prohibit scooter parking on bridges over the river and to improve attempts to retrieve devices in the river more quickly.

Individuals who throw a scooter into the river could be cited for littering or malicious destruction of property.

Stout said those who throw scooters in the river aren't exercising good judgement and he's been pleased to see more students engaged in protecting and cleaning up the river.

He hopes the new measures will prevent contaminating the water without having to eliminate a transportation option.

"People in general aren't against micromobility," Stout said. "It's just a matter of being good managers of the business and being good partners in the community."

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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