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Davenport, Iowa, Weighs Electric Scooter Ordinance

Davenport is debating whether to join other cities in Iowa and the country in approving the expansion of e-scooter company Bird. Scooters can be a great micro-mobility option, but they come with potential concerns.

Bird scooters
(TNS) — Davenport residents could have a new mode of transportation to get around downtown and the Hilltop area this summer.

Two Davenport aldermen are working with the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would allow an electric scooter rental service to come to Davenport.

Aldermen Matt Dohrmann, Ward 5, and JJ Condon, at-large, say they were approached by Santa Monica, Calif.-based company Bird to bring its app-based, stand-up electric scooter to Davenport.

The company, which operates in more than 100 cities worldwide, has been looking to expand in the state.

The Mason City Council in April unanimously approved a memo of understanding with Bird to bring the scooter-sharing company to the area. And Waterloo city officials this week considered a proposed ordinance that could pave the way for bringing its electric scooters to downtown Waterloo in early June.

The company's website states its mission "is to make cities more livable by reducing car usage, traffic and carbon emissions."

Riders download the company's app and submit payment information before starting the ride, scanning a QR code on the scooter, which starts the trip. Once they complete their trip they are charged. The scooter's cost $1 to unlock and then an additional per-minute fee, typically 32 cents per minute.

Dohrmann said the scooter-rental service — which would include about 150 scooters as part of a pilot project through the end of the year — would help bridge that "last-mile" gap where public transportation options do not get riders exactly where they need to go, providing "micro-mobility" in targeted areas of downtown, the Hilltop area and St. Ambrose University and Palmer College of Chiropractic campuses.

"The whole concept of micro-mobility is when you have that walk that's 20 to 25 minutes, but a drive that's two to five minutes, the scooters are the in-between, where you can go that same distance in maybe five to eight minutes," Dohrmann said. "It's really for the short distances to get around town ... It's finding a way to bring new technology and things that attract the next generation to our town and our community."

Use of the scooters would be restricted from Locust to River Drive and Gaines to Federal streets as part of the proposed pilot, Warner said.

But while admired for their convenience and fun, several large U.S. cities have grappled with the tiny-wheeled, motorized devices becoming a nuisance in recent years — from scooters often strewn across and cluttering or blocking sidewalks, or, in some cases, dumped in rivers — prompting bans and restrictions.

The scooters have also raised safety issues, first emerging as sidewalk bullies, as CNN reported, then forced onto streets where they are slow and vulnerable to car traffic and potholes that can swallow small tires.

Dohrmann said the scooters — which typically have a max speed of 18 miles per hour — would be treated no different than riding a bike, and the same types of rules would apply.

Scooters would not be allowed on sidewalks, trails or bike paths, he said. Instead, riders would be restricted to using bike lanes and required to follow the same rules as bicyclists when using street lanes. Helmets as well would be required to be worn by riders, Dohrmann said.

While details of the ordinance are still being finalized, City Attorney Tom Warner said children ages 12 to 17 would only be allowed to use the scooters if accompanied by a parent or an adult.

Additionally, Dohrmann said Bird would pay the city five cents for every user ride on a quarterly basis, which would help the city maintain its streets.

No city money would go toward the proposed venture, Dohrmann said.

"We're not paying at all for Bird to come, where we're buying their services," Dohrmann said, stressing the pilot approach would allow the city and Bird to assess how well the arrangement works.

"For Bird, if they're getting the ridership and business they need to have a successful business model. And, for us to make sure it's not a nuisance or a safety hazard, and that the city of Davenport is happy with the partnership as well," he said.

Dohrmann added, "if after the summer we figure out it's horrible and we don't like it, we can get rid of it or we can make changes. We're not locking ourselves into anything."

Dohrmann, as well, argued the company has learned to fix and address the issues and concerns that have arisen in other markets. That includes providing in-app incentives and real-time navigation and GPS enabled alerts to encourage riders to park correctly in designated zones with a discount on their next ride for those who properly park their scooter to avoid cluttering narrow city sidewalks and taking up on-street parking spots.

"We could also geo-tag things, so we could say these are absolutely the wrong places to park, and therefore it's all GPS-driven so (Bird) wouldn't allow you to turn (the scooters) off if you're in one of those zones," Dohrmann said.

Additionally, he said the company includes contact information on all of its scooters, provides 24-hour customer service and will be responsible for hiring managers to recharge the scooters and pick them up.

Representatives for Bird did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment late Wednesday afternoon.

Bird will make a presentation to the Davenport City Council at its next management update meeting, scheduled for June 1, with a proposed ordinance slated to go before council for its review later that month, Dohrmann said.

Should aldermen approve the ordinance, Warner said licensing, liability and insurance coverage requirements would be spelled out in a separate memorandum of understanding with Bird.

Downtown Davenport business owner Dan Bush, who co-owns Armored Gardens, Devon's Complaint Department and Analog Arcade Bar, said he favors the proposal.

"I've used scooters like them in bigger cities and is a convenient and cost-effective way to get around," Bush said. "Downtown has become increasing more pedestrian friendly, and this will enhance that further."

©2021 Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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