Santa Rosa moves closer to shared scooters as city council approves the pilot program

Santa Rosa could see a test fleet of electric scooters for rent on some streets in the spring or early summer after the city council unanimously approved a pilot program on Thursday.

It is not yet clear who will manage the e-scooters exactly.

Bird, a Santa Monica-based micro-mobility company, works with cities around the world to offer car-free, environmentally friendly transportation options such as bicycles and e-scooters. It previously held a demonstration of its e-scooters for Santa Rosa leaders.

The city plans to hold an application process to select an operator for the pilot program, which will last a year, officials said.

Up to 200 scooters could be placed in parts of downtown and Railroad Square, in Roseland and in the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood, according to the program.

Customers must attach their e-scooters to a bike rack or other fixed device after use, and drivers under the age of 18 must wear a helmet in accordance with the legal requirements of the country.

Santa Rosa officials are likely to enact more permanent, comprehensive regulations after the pilot program starts.

These considerations are likely to include a cost recovery program for the city if infrastructure or staff hours are impacted by the proliferation of e-scooters.

Councilors had a myriad of questions about safety, accessibility, and how the program will avoid littering Santa Rosa sidewalks with dropped e-scooters.

“I’m skeptical, but I’m ready to try it,” said Alderman John Sawyer. “This is what pilot programs are all about.”

E-scooter rental companies, including Bird and Lime based in San Francisco, are rapidly gaining ground in major US cities. According to a paper from New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation, companies started growing rapidly in the fall of 2017.

The scooters were hailed as the solution to the “first and last mile” problem of local public transport – the idea that more people would use trains like SMART or city buses if they had a convenient way to get from train stations to their final destinations.

However, their spread has not been without problems, as cities have struggled with problems such as drivers dropping e-scooters on sidewalks, making it difficult for pedestrians, or large numbers of scooters being thrown into bodies of water in some cities.

The scooters are often rented through an app on a smartphone, but the suggestion made by the City of Santa Rosa staff requires the operator to develop a payment method that does not require a cell phone or credit card.

For example, Lime has developed a program called Lime Access that enables cash payments in convenience store franchises like CVS or 7-11. The program requires an online application.

Councilor Victoria Fleming warned city officials that after the pilot program she would like to see assurances that the scooters will indeed be accessible to low-income city residents who may not have a smartphone.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or [email protected]. On Twitter @ AndrewGraham88

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