Detested by most residents, “hated” to use the word regularly repeated by Columbus Police, and used without obeying the law by relatively few, the plague of unregulated electric scooters is one of Columbus’ few marks of distinction. With almost all other distinctions, this is another grade of F for failure; P for profiteering; C for corruption; V for the City’s violation of its own laws and its residents’ rights. This is The Columbus Way.

Columbus is the largest US city with no policy for regulating electric scooters. See, for example, John Seabrook, “The E-Scooters Loved by Silicon Valley Roll into New York” (The New Yorker, Apr. 19, 2021; for related humor, Fred Noland, “The Scooter Menace,” Sept. 19, 2022). /Other cities pursue a variety of means of regulating scooters—with more or less success—especially for safety and the physical environment.

The slogans that scooters benefit the physical environment or “enhance mobility” (one of the Division of Public (aka Private) Service’s favorite self-promotional terms) are shown over  and over to have no merit. That never matters to the City of Columbus.

Now that City Councilors and the mayor frequently sing, out of tune, “we’re a big city now,” I note that Paris (France, not Texas) just voted 89% in favor of a complete ban on electric scooters in a popular referendum. The ban is moving forward. (“In Paris Referendum, 89% of Voters Back a Ban on Electric Scooters,” New York Times Apr. 3, 2023)

I personally raised this question with City Councilors more than two years ago. I was assured immediately by the three legislative aides who bothered to respond (of seven who I contacted), that regulation was coming soon. I shared the April 2021 New Yorker article with them because it gave examples of the actions and proposals in a number of American cities. They thanked me and passed it along to their colleagues.

In the next two years, the plague of scooters materially worsens. Of course, all three legislative aides and one of their councilors—the most open to the public—have left the City. I know of no one in Council who has an interest in

1. The dangers—including frequent accidents involving motor vehicles, other scooters and bicycles, pedestrians, and single scooters often occupied by two young people without helmets—of scooters on the streets.

2. The frequent, illegal but unpoliced riding of scooters (and bicycles) on public sidewalks. The unpoliced OSU campus with no warning signs is an especially dangerous area. It is followed by the University District and Short North. The latter has slight but rarely unenforced regulations along with North High Street near OSU on home football game Saturday afternoons.

3. The sidewalks and street corners throughout the city are literally littered with thousands of abandoned scooters, as illegally contracted with at least three major rental companies by the anti-public, lawless, corrupt, and profiteering Division of Public (aka Private) Services. That failing enterprise is mismanaged by Jennifer Gallagher who is under active investigation by the state Board of Ethics for giving contracts to her husband’s construction business. That is  a blatant conflict of interest. Gallagher has the support of her buddy Andy Ginther. (See my “J’accuse: The City of Columbus Division of Public (aka Private) Service,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Mar. 3, 2023, among my writings)

Let’s unpack this:

a. First, the City law is purposefully contradictory and hard to enforce. It is legal to abandon a scooter (but not a rental bicycle which must be locked in a specific rack) on a sidewalk but it cannot interfere with movement. The latter contradicts the former. CPD officers tell me that they just do not know what to do. Along with “hating” the scooters, officers abhor the uncertainty.

b. Why is this? Not surprisingly to anyone who knows the conduct of the City of Columbus, Jennifer Gallagher’s Division of Public (aka Private) Services secretly and illegally sold the rights to litter the city’s sidewalks to at least three private electric scooter rental companies, none of them based in Columbus or Ohio.

As with her sale of private short-term lease cars’ “rights” to be left like litter in the places already leased to residential parking permit holders, no procedures were followed. (Those Eastern Europe-based companies have now failed. [“Startups Can’t Seem to Make Alternative Transportation Work,” ColumbusUnderground, Mar. 4, 2023])

That is, no formal, explicit, public proposals were made to any City or public institution or organizations; nothing was announced publicly; there was no public input. Neither City Council nor CPD were consulted. Neighborhood commissions were not informed. Nor, amazingly, was CPD told.

Private Services did the same in shifting from easy to use parking meters to still confusing and sometimes inaccessible and inoperable apps for parking. In the process, they discriminated against those who do not have cell phones or use apps, and also reduced the number of seniors parking places.

Private Works has absolutely no interest in their legally required responsibilities for inspecting Columbus’ badly broken sidewalks and streets, or regulating parking—that is, other than out of control ticketing –that is profiteering--in targeted areas (University District, Short North, certain public parks) for the slightest of infractions.

The streets and sidewalks are broken, never inspected, no laws enforced. Residents of all ages trip and fall. I have broken my leg on illegal cracked sidewalks.

The unrepaired streets and sidewalks, along with trash, are the first things that visitors to Columbus note and comment on.

There are no profits from actually doing their lawful jobs.

This is why I renamed them the lawless, profiteering, and corrupt Division of Private Service. They literally trample the rights of the taxpaying residents and put the city’s worst face forward to visitors.

That’s The Columbus Way: money in the pockets of a few….

c. The problem worsens when we move from healthy human pedestrian mobility to joggers, baby strollers and carriages, anyone on crutches or in a wheel chair. There is no place for any of them on the streets of Columbus or the minds of Private Services or City Council.

d. The young people who rent scooters with apps on their cell phones only rarely bother to put the abandoned vehicles on the edges of the sidewalks. They leave them—sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes purposefully—in the middle of the sidewalks anywhere.

e. My neighboring juvenile delinquent and hoodlum OSU student tenants resent our politely requesting that they do not block the sidewalks. The residents of at least three different houses across the street from our home purposefully leave their scooters blocking my own sidewalks. When I ask them or call CPD, they brazenly lie.

Overnight, a few weeks ago, one household of young women actually dragged seven scooters and one electric bike on to my private property and left them in a pile in front of our garage. This is multiple illegal actions. After I insistent, a CPD officer agreed to make a photographic record with his body-cam and file a report.

f. In my neighborhood, there are few blocks without scooters blocking the way. I have asked Refuge to pick them up like the litter that they are. Refuge demurred. Zoning Enforcement enforces nothing.

4. Under the City’s illegal contract with the rental companies, they are permitted to deposit 6 to 8 scooters in sidewalk blocking clumps on street corners throughout the city but especially in the campus and Short North areas. Hypothetically, they are not expected to be left for days and weeks as they in fact are.

5. Unbelievably, someone somewhere in the City must expect the renters to return the scooters to block the same street corners in impassible clusters. Not surprisingly, that rarely happens. They are left standing upright or lying down in the middle of sidewalks polluting the city everywhere.

That, of course, is The Columbus Way. Dollars for a few; damage to the City and its taxpaying residents.

No city employee, elected or unelected , gives a damn. That’s not profitable.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University and inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Author of many books, he writes about a variety of contemporary and historical topics for Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, Washington Monthly, Publishers Weekly, Against the Current, Columbus Free Press, and newspapers. Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2022. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming. He is now writing “Reconstructing the ‘uni-versity’ from the ashes of the ‘multi- or mega-university.’”