City introduces electric scooter pilot project for 2020

Scooters parked on the curb

Lime Scooters ready to be used at the e-scooter demo event on Thursday, Sept. 26. // Photo courtesy of the City of Bellingham

By Melody Kazel

Electric scooters are rolling into Bellingham and with them rolls a pilot project for 2020. 

On Sept. 26, the city of Bellingham hosted an event during Climate Action Week where residents could test ride e-scooters. A week before the event, the city partnered with Lime and gave e-scooters to a few members of the business community for testing. Those riders answered questions at the event about their experiences. The pilot program will potentially bring rentable e-scooters to the sidewalks of Bellingham.

         An e-bike or e-scooter is similar to a regular one except it gives the rider an extra burst of power to help them ride, according to Whatcom Smart Trips Outreach Coordinator Michelle Grandy. The scooters’ battery-powered motors make them more accessible to people who may not be used to riding e-scooters.

“The neat thing about the e-scooters is that the folks who never bike or don’t bike aren’t intimidated to try an e-scooter,” Grandy said. “I think that that can play into a municipality’s decision about whether or not to try both or just one.” 

         Grandy is working mostly with e-bikes and clarified the e-scooter program is separate from what Whatcom Smart Trips has been working on with e-bikes.

  “I can’t speak for exactly why the city has made that decision,” Grandy said. “What I do know about pilot programs and the use of e-scooters and e-bikes in different communities is that the e-scooters are being used by people who don’t bicycle.”

         The pilot program would allow companies, such as Lime, to bring in and set up e-scooters and their docks throughout the city for residents to use. The companies would be paying to set up scooters so it won’t be coming out of resident’s tax dollars, according to Christine Grant, a consultant with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

         It will cost to rent and ride the scooters. “The typical pricing is a dollar unlock and then 15 cents per minute,” said Grant. 

Lime fosters a program called Lime Access in which low-income individuals can use the e-scooters for half the price, Grant said. 

         The pilot program is scheduled to begin in 2020 according to Darby Cowles, senior planner with the city’s Planning and Community Development Department. She said the program will last anywhere from six months to a year and the data will be used to determine whether the e-scooters are a good fit for Bellingham.

         Cowles and her team have been researching and tracking other communities for the past year to see how similar projects have impacted them. 

“I think one of the higher level takeaways is the communities that opened up the door, without giving it a lot of thought, have been the ones that have experienced the most negative consequences,” Cowles said.

         The goal of the pilot program is to ensure that allowing e-scooter companies to operate here won’t negatively affect the city. If it does, Cowles said the city will not create a permanent e-scooter program. 

“Our job as a city is to figure out a way for them to operate that doesn’t adversely impact the public,” Cowles said.

         She and her team plan to speak to the people who would be most affected by this program, namely local bike shop owners. The city is also developing a webpage that will be a portal for information on the status and background of the project. Cowles said the website will likely be up by next week.

One comment

  • The people most likely to be affected are those of us who think the sidewalks are for walking. My experience as a pedestrian in cities that do have them is not a happy one. There are enough inconsiderate users of these devices that make walking an experience where you always wonder if your next moment is one in which you’re blind-sided by someone zipping through pedestrian corridors. Most of the discussion on this issue seems to be about their “trendiness” and promotion on the part of those who will benefit financially (Lime). And, please, don’t tell me they will solve our transportation problem or, worse, that they will solve our climate impact woes.

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