Lime scooter users in Little Rock required to ride on sidewalks instead of roads

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 01:39 PM PST

The Jan. 8 launch of a six-month pilot project between the city of Little Rock and Lime has brought dozens of pay-as-you-go e-scooters downtown, and Little Rock joins over a hundred other U.S. cities with Lime partnerships. But Little Rock riders are unique: City Ordinance 32-463 prohibits "scooters" and other devices, such as roller skates, from being ridden on roads except when crossing the street on a crosswalk. The devices must be ridden on sidewalks at all times. (Bicycles, on the other hand, must be ridden on paved roads or tracts specifically designated for them.)

 "Lime advises riders to follow local riding, traffic and safety laws in each market in which it operates," Erika Scholz Van, an account director with Lime PR firm ARPR, wrote in an email. "Little Rock is unique in that it requires scooters to be ridden on the sidewalks at this time."

Todd O'Boyle, director of government relations in the Southeast for Lime, said the company attempts to help enforce the ordinance in Little Rock through messages within the app that remind riders of safety instructions tailored to their region.

"The app has the correct local instructions for local policy," he said. "We've reinforced that with pop up notifications and in-app messaging so that riders know where to be in Little Rock."

Officer Eric Barnes, spokesman for the Little Rock Police Department, said safety is the LRPD's primary concern. "I think we're hopeful that people would just follow guidelines, and our biggest deal is we want people to be safe with them," he said. "They're in a part of the city [where] a lot of tourists do go, so we want people to go and have fun, definitely. We just want everyone to do that safely."

Barnes said riders cannot receive a DWI on a scooter, but if a rider is in a state of intoxication, police would still follow the public intoxication law.

At the time of the Lime launch, Van wrote in a news release that "Lime-S riders must be 18 years or older, have a valid driver's license, and wear a helmet." The company spells out these requirements for its riders, O'Boyle said, with in-app messaging.

"Riders must agree to our terms of service before they can use a scooter, and additionally, we reinforce that with messaging on the device that says 18-plus, and messaging that says to be sure to wear a helmet," he said.

In Arkansas, only motorcycle passengers under the age of 21 are legally required to wear helmets. According to O'Boyle, driver's license verification on the app is required in some markets, but Little Rock is not one of them.

For those who wish to get a little radical during a ride by doing jumps or tricks to get some "air," O'Boyle said, they'll be out of luck on a Lime. "I think what you'll find is when you take your first ride with Lime, the weight and the balance of the vehicle would not be conducive [to tricks]."

A Lime is only as good as its Juicer, which is the title given to the folks who sign up to work for Lime by gathering up scooters at night for recharging. O'Boyle said Lime's "general operational model" is to have the scooters out every morning around 8 a.m. Juicers retrieve the scooters using a tracking app around 9 p.m. and charge them at home.

According to the company's website, Lime scooters can go up to just under 15 miles an hour, and they pick up pretty fast, as discovered in a test run by the Times' Brooke Wallace. On a full charge, the battery can last for 20-plus miles. O'Boyle said Lime's data shows  average trip lengths are far shorter than that.

"From a rider's perspective, we're thinking about how far they are going, and we find that the bulk of our trips are at that last mile of transportation, which is the hardest piece of the puzzle in the transportation world," he said. "The bulk of our trips are short, a mile or less, and we find that that's people going to and from meetings, going to see friends, stopping at a local cafe or boutique. … Our batteries are more than capable of getting people over the last mile."

If a rider is really enjoying her time on a Lime scooter, can she use it to travel all the way home?

"We've seen a strong commuting ridership on our scooters," O'Boyle said. "We have an agreement with the city that allows us to operate anywhere within the city of Little Rock, so I'm sure people are riding from downtown to a home that might be a little farther away. That's why we're constantly gathering data on usage patterns, and that helps us understand where we want to concentrate the next phase of our deployment."

According to O'Boyle, the January launch of Lime was the product of several months of collaboration, beginning in October, and the company remains in regular contact with the city  to help determine the future of the project.

O'Boyle also said Little Rock has reacted positively to Lime's launch.

"We've seen strong interest in the community and we've been very pleased, both with juicers and with ridership. Ridership has been great," he said. "We're seeing a strong trip generation in Little Rock and we've had interest from across the community saying, 'We like Lime, we'd love to see more of it in our neighborhood,' so we, of course, are filing all that away as we think about increasing our deployment and growing into the next phase of our deployment."

Thursday: Headlines and the open line

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 12:10 PM PST

Today's news by video: Legislature eases into the weekend. This is also the open line.

Rally for Reproductive Rights on Saturday: UPDATE

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 10:59 AM PST

The misogynists at the state Capitol are already busy introducing anti-abortion bills and the members of the Arkansas Medical Board are punishing abortion clinics with a law meant to undermine their revenues. But women are busy, too: the annual Rally for Reproductive Justice will be held on the Capitol steps at 1 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 19. Keynote speaker will be Pamela Merritt, the co-founder of Reproaction, and others on why these bills are hurting, not helping, women and their families.

The event, sponsored by the Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice, works for "the right to HAVE children, the right to NOT HAVE children and the right to PARENT the children we have in SAFE and HEALTHY ENVIRONMENTS," it explains on the Facebook page announcing the rally.

Sen. Trent Garner — whose other important proposed legislation includes making the shotgun the state gun and who wants to see people carrying their guns openly and everywhere — has sponsored two abortion bills: SB2, which would make it illegal for a woman to choose abortion if her fetus tests positive for Down Syndrome; and SB3, to require physicians to make extensive reports on "abortion complications" to the state Department of Health.

Meanwhile, over at the state Medical Board, three clinics that provide abortion were cited for billing patients who come seeking an abortion. A 2017 law prohibited clinics from collecting payment from during the 48-hour "reflection period" after a patient's first visit. Board member Robbie Thomas-Knight quit the board after its vote saying the clinics broke the law, saying the decision was made without a hearing and was motivated by abortion animus. Bettina Brownstein, lawyer for the clinics, said the state law was in violation of both state and federal constitutions and would cost clinics thousands of dollars. (Which was the point of the law, of course.)

UPDATE: I asked Meg Mirivel, the spokeswoman for the Department of Health, what complications from medical procedures were required to be reported to the agency. The answer: None. Here's what she wrote:

Outbreaks of illness that are healthcare-acquired are reportable. ADH Healthcare Facility Services requires facilities to report any incident of a death while a person is in restraints. Hospitals and Ambulatory Surgery Centers are required to keep records of complications, but they are not required to report them. During inspections, these logs are reviewed and analyzed for any trends which would trigger a more extensive investigation as well as evaluating whether the facility is including anything they have identified in their quality assurance program.

Garner's bill requires physicians who've performed an abortion to submit a report to the Department of Health, within three days.  

Federal judge overturns state's forced school transfer participation in four districts

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 10:10 AM PST

The Hope, Lafayette County, Junction City and Camden Fairview School Districts all have won a federal judge's ruling in favor of their challenge of the state Board of Education's decision to force them to allow interdistrict transfers under the state school transfer law.

The districts have fought open transfer laws, citing past decisions in federal court desegregation cases and the impact of transfers on resegregation. Typically, transfers are most used by white students leaving for districts with smaller minority enrollments.

Judge Susan Hickey of El Dorado had earlier refused to block the state Board of Education decision to require approval of transfers in the four districts this year under a 2017 law. That meant the loss of 20 or so students in both Hope and Lafayette County, about 15 in Camden Fairview and seven in Junction City, said Allen Roberts of Camden, attorney for the districts.

They are among a handful of the districts in Arkansas still claiming exemption from the transfer law on the basis of past desegregation cases. The state Board of Education, buttressed by state law pushed by backers of so-called school choice required districts to prove explicit court approval of exemptions. That sent the districts to court to receive court approval of past decrees to reflect that.

Roberts said he expected an appeal of today's decision. The Walton Family Foundation and other wealthy backers of the agenda have supported efforts in the legislature and courts to end exemptions from the transfer law. He said he was hopeful he could persuade the state to agree to a court-supervised settlement process. He said the districts would report annually to the federal court and continue to be exempt as they were maintaining racial percentages and otherwise meeting terms of the ruling.

This decision comes as organizations supported by the Walton fortune and other billionaires are promoting "school choice" week and planning a legislative assault to further advance charter schools, voucher programs and other damage to conventional public school districts.

In the four cases, the districts asked for clarification that they still operated under the requirements of past decrees. Though circumstances and timing are different, the core issue was the same. Hickey wrote, for example, in the Lafayette case, that the past rulings were modified to "explicitly prohibit the segregative inter-district transfer of students from LCSD to other school districts, unless such a transfer is requested for education or compassionate purposes and is approved by LCSD's school board on a case-by-case basis."

The judge noted school transfers were not permitted by law at the time these court cases were decided, thus there was no need then to explicitly prohibit interdistrict transfers that caused segregation. She said case law allows modification of consent decrees under such circumstances. The state argued against this. But she wrote:

The present requested modification would not directly restrict any other school district's ability to participate in school choice or to receive students from other school districts that are otherwise eligible to participate in school choice. The proposed modification would only prevent other school districts from receiving segregative student transfers from LCSD pursuant to school choice. This minor intrusion into other school districts' ability to receive LCSD transfer students does not directly impact those other school districts.
She did not order those students who transferred this year to return.

Hogs short on players

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 08:08 AM PST

When Arkansas started SEC play by sneaking out of College Station, Texas, with a really shaky victory over those pernicious Aggie types, it all seemed so simple, right? The formula for some degree of success in what is shaping up to be a rough-and-tumble league in 2018-19 was set: The Hogs could ill afford to be so reliant on the three-pointer, they had to be aggressive defensively, and they had to figure out some way to get their short, inexperienced bench to contribute.
When Arkansas started SEC play by sneaking out of College Station, Texas, with a really shaky victory over those pernicious Aggie types, it all seemed so simple, right? The formula for some degree of success in what is shaping up to be a rough-and-tumble league in 2018-19 was set: The Hogs could ill afford to be so reliant on the three-pointer, they had to be aggressive defensively, and they had to figure out some way to get their short, inexperienced bench to contribute.

Four days after that, that bench scored zero points in an almost historically ugly home loss to Florida in which guard Mason Jones posted more points than the other eight players who saw action combined. It figured that Mike Anderson would have his charges far better prepared for a weekend tilt against a very tough LSU team, and sure enough, Arkansas did play with far more spirit against the Tigers at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.

The trouble is, even with Daniel Gafford taking an authoritative role in the contest (a career-best 32 points and an authoritative slam that sent the game to overtime, where it might've appeared Arkansas had momentum after trailing virtually all night), Arkansas still didn't get quite enough from others. Jones was steady again, too, with 22, and Reggie Chaney contributed 12 off the pine. But Isaiah Joe was punchless, Desi Sills didn't score, and the Hogs had nary an answer for the Tigers' rangy McDonald's All-American Naz Reid, who had 27 points and seven boards, and the defense yet again had lapses at the worst possible junctures.

Make no mistake, this is a balanced, potent LSU team, but it's also a program that has constantly struggled to find its footing in a state where football and baseball reign supreme. The Tigers blew the doors off an uninspired Arkansas team at Bud Walton last year and then completed a season sweep with a win at Baton Rouge, but that was an 18-15 team that caught the Hogs sleeping twice. This time, Arkansas gave its all, but Will Wade has assembled a quality roster with better depth in short order, and that was enough to stave off the shorthanded Hogs, 94-88.

The hangover effect may or may not have been in play when the Hogs had a quick turnaround to take on No. 3 Tennessee in Knoxville Tuesday. Simply put, regardless of how dispirited the LSU loss might have rendered the team, the Razorbacks weren't going to thwart what may well be the best and most experienced Volunteer team ever. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams are the stalwarts, but what wounded the Hogs at Thompson-Boling Arena was the Vols' 1-2 reserve punch of Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner, who combined for 40 points and keyed the first-half surge that put the hosts comfortably ahead by 21 at halftime.

Meanwhile, Gafford was in foul trouble and largely ineffective, negating a bounce-back game from Joe (23 points and seven triples) and more workmanlike efforts from Jones (18 points) and Chaney (11 points). And, OK, when you get right down to it, the Hogs deserve some credit for at least trying to climb out of the big hole, as they outscored Tennessee in the second half and actually looked efficient in doing so.

But this team's shortage of manpower — or, let's put it this way, the fact that going on the road in this conference almost always ends up with your best players in foul trouble — is going to be a season-long issue. And that's why the defections of Darious Hall and C.J. Jones after last season ended, along with Khalil Garland's unresolved health problems and Anderson's strange reluctance to play freshman post Ethan Henderson, are so damning. There's skill here, but the minute the whistle blows on Gafford one too many times and the shooters start falling in love with their range, the wheels come off the wagon, and hard.

Anderson is in a precarious spot. Last year's team underachieved by all objective measure, and this team's best player is going to be wooed yet again by the lure of professional riches. He was also hired by the last athletic director eight years ago to get the program back to a competitive level, and he's fallen short of that with plenty of time granted to him for that purpose. There's a lot of season left and some good opportunities to reclaim lost ground, but there has to be some fire and urgency on the court and the sidelines, and right now those traits are somewhat lacking to put it kindly.

State retirement benefits on the chopping block UPDATE

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 06:18 AM PST

Michael Wickline reports for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today on the board of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System's move to make retirement benefits both more costly and less lucrative.

I remain unclear on the key element of the plan —

to ask lawmakers to give trustees the flexibility to set the annual cost-of-living adjustment for retired members somewhere between the consumer price index and a 3 percent rate that is not compounded.
Does this mean an annual payment to reflect a rise in the cost of living is not compounded only if 3 percent is paid? Or does it mean it is not compounded no matter the size of the payment? This is a BIG deal. If it's the latter, it's no longer a COLA at all but an annual bonus.

With no compounding of amounts that recognize the rising cost of living, a public employee who retired today with a $700 monthly benefit could expect to be receiving $700 a month 20 years from now, plus an annual payment that reflected the rise in the consumer price index that year, if any. The longer you live, the behinder you would get, in other words.

I've asked Rep. Doug House, who expects to introduce legislation along these lines, for some clarification. Today this just applies to APERS. But the larger Teachers Retirement System and smaller retirement systems for highway workers, State Police and judges (I'm a related beneficiary of that plan) are also likely to be targeted for cost savings.

UPDATE: I think I get it now. The change is not as big as I thought, but a change. Annual payments to reflect cost of living increases would add to monthly benefits over time, but be computed against the benefit at retirement. Thus an increase of up to 3 percent would be computed against starting retirement and added — that move to $1,030 a month for a person retired at $1,000 a month. A 3 percent raise the next year would be a simple payment of $30 more, not computed on the $1,030 being paid. No interest on earned interest, in other words. This will produce a significant savings over time, particularly if there is not an automatic 3 percent increase.

The currently independent systems have varying degrees of financial stability with differing so-called unfunded liabilities. A guaranteed 3 percent compounded increase is a VERY good deal for retirees and expensive in the form of a compounding cost of benefits. It not only has tended to beat the CPI increase in recent years, it regularly exceeds the pay increases given by the legislators to active state employees.

The change in the COLA is the biggest ticket item, but it is not the only way legislators and the APERS board (now controlled by Gov. Asa Hutchinson) aim to reduce pension costs. Other proposals:

* Raise from 5 percent to 6 percent of pay the amount employees must contribute to their retirement. Governments pay roughly 15 percent.

* Cut the multiplier in the pension formula from 2 percent to 1.8 percent times years served. A newly retired 25-year employee would thus see a 5 percent drop in benefits now offered.

* Cut the interest rate paid on members' contributions from 4 percent to 2 percent annually. That's a 50 percent cut in investment return.

* Figure retirement benefits based on an average of the highest five years of pay rather than three for new members beginning next year. This won't affect the many long-term legislators who have moved into high-paying state jobs covered by APERS. They can calculate benefits on three years of state executive pay.

UPDATE: Rep. House today filed shell bills, the specifics missing, to alter COLAs for all four of the state retirement systems. He said that they had decided to set future simple COLAS on current benefits, not on benefits when originally awarded.

End of two daily newspapers announced in South Arkansas

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 05:43 AM PST

The Magnolia Reporter has details
on the decision of WEHCO Medica, owner of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette among other newspapers and media properties, to end daily publication of newspapers in Camden and Magnolia.

The newspapers will continue as weekly newspapers and have a digital presence as well.

The Magnolia Reporter notes that the company has been printing its South Arkansas newspapers, also including El Dorado and Texarkana, in Little Rock, a change that has affected deadlines at the smaller dailies.

The Magnolia Reporter, by the way, is an independent free online publication that depends on advertising revenue and competes with the Magnolia paper. The decline in ad revenue was cited by WEHCO in its decision to change from daily to weekly publication. It said both the Magnolia and Camden papers were losing money.

Internet disruption of print media — along with changing reading habits — has caused dramatic drops in paid circulation and advertising nationwide. The Democrat-Gazette has ended print circulation in more than a third of Arkansas counties, offering instead digital subscriptions with use of loaned computer tablets.

The Arkansas Times converts this month from weekly to a glossy monthly publication in print, but will continue and expand our digital offerings, which have a subscription fee for unlimited access.

Two killed in West Memphis police shooting

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 05:32 AM PST

Details remain hazy, but State Police spokesmen say two people are dead after police gunfire in West Memphis.

Various TV outlets are reporting that the two were killed when officers fired at suspects who'd run over and injured the legs of a West Memphis police officer about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at 18th and McAuley.

Also on the legislative agenda: Implanted microchips

Posted: 16 Jan 2019 02:11 PM PST

Also in the bill hopper today, legislation by Rep. Stephen Meeks to prohibit employers from implanting microchips in employees without their written consent and prohibiting making implantation of a chip a condition of employment.

The legislation also provides for an employer to pay for removal of a chip if requested.

Well. Who knew?

In this and in other things, I'm behind emerging technology. From the Washington Post:

The technology company Three Square Market made headlines last year for implanting microchips in the arms of nearly 100 employees, allowing them to open doors, log on to their computers and purchase snacks from company vending machines with a simple swipe of their arm.

The chips were initially little more than an innovative novelty, but now the Wisconsin-based company — which designs software for vending machines — has a more ambitious plan, according to chief executive Todd Westby. During an appearance on CNBC, Westby said his company is working on a more sophisticated microchip that is powered by human body heat and includes GPS tracking capabilities and voice activation.

[Some feared hackers and the devil. Others got microchipped.]

Microchips with GPS tracking may strike some as the first step toward handing our autonomy over to Skynet-like government overlords, and Three Square Market officials acknowledge that the chips will offer a convenient way to track people — especially those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia.
Privacy concerns? You bet. And millions of things I'm sure I haven't thought about.

I have no idea if this is being used by any employer in Arkansas. But we are moving toward a cashless and cardless society with cell phones and you could see where you could eliminate the phone company middleman with an implant.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone with experience.