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Modesto, Calif., Considers Approving Electric Scooters

The city is considering a pilot program with Bird Rides, a Santa Monica-based company that provides electric bicycles and scooters, operating rental programs in about 400 communities throughout the world.

bird scooters
(TNS) — Electric scooters that people can rent with a smartphone app could be zipping along Modesto streets by next year.

The city is considering a pilot program with Bird Rides, a Santa Monica-based company that provides electric bicycles and scooters. Bird sells the bikes and scooters to consumers, but it also operates rental programs in about 400 communities throughout the world, according to a company official.

The City Council’s Economic Development Committee heard a presentation Dec. 6 about Bird Rides coming to Modesto. The full City Council could consider approving an agreement for a pilot program in January.

Community and Economic Development Director Jaylen French said if the council approves the pilot program, the scooters could be on city streets within a couple of months after the city and Bird work out the program’s final details.

Some of the details that were outstanding as of the committee meeting were the length of the pilot program (Modesto wanted a year; Bird wanted two), and the initial number of scooters for the program’s launch (Modesto wanted a minimum of 50; Bird wanted substantially more).

Bird would pay Modesto 5 cents for each ride to help pay for transportation improvements in the pilot program area, according to a city report.

The report also says the California Vehicle Code regulates the use of these electric scooters, bicycles and other shared mobility devices that a company provides to the public for a fee.

The Vehicle Code, according to the report, requires scooter users to have a driver’s license or instruction permit, not carry passengers, stay off the sidewalk, use the bike lane if the posted speed limit is greater than 25 mph, and not travel faster than 15 mph. Users under 18 are required to wear helmets.

The scooters are placed in central locations. People then rent them, ride them and park them at their final destination. (They are not supposed to leave them strewn in the street or sidewalk, creating a hazard.)

Bird hires a local fleet manager to operate the program. The manager collects the scooters at the end of the day, services them — including recharging them — and puts them back in the central locations. The manager also responds to complaints.

‘Modesto is a good fit’

Mike Butler, a Bird Rides official, said at the Dec. 6 Economic Development Committee meeting that the typical scooter user is 19 to 39 years old and rents them for fun, getting to school, work, the gym or a trip to the coffee shop or restaurant.

He said Bird would start its pilot program with scooters in downtown and at Modesto Junior College and expand as scooters gain in popularity. “There is no question in our mind, Modesto is a good fit,” Butler said.

The Economic Development Committee voted 2-1 to forward this proposal to the full City Council, with council members Tony Madrigal and Rosa Escutia-Braaton voting “yes” and Councilman David Wright voting “no.”

Wright said in an interview he is concerned scooter riders will create a hazard by riding on sidewalks, and it will be dangerous for them to ride along city streets. “I don’t think our city is a good fit for this type of transportation,” Wright said.

Tracy started a pilot program with Bird for scooter rentals in August. Before that, Bird had been operating in that city since October 2020. “For the most part, it’s been overall fairly positive,” said Ed Lovell, Tracy’s transit manager.

Kids renting scooters

Lovell said users pay $1 to unlock a scooter and then 30 cents for every minute they use them. He said the main concerns have been scooter riders carrying passengers, kids without licenses or instruction permits renting scooters and people riding on sidewalks.

He said the scooters have a device in them that prevents them for going faster than 15 mph. He said theft and vandalism and renters leaving the scooters in the street or sidewalk have not been issues and he's not aware of any major accidents involving the scooters. He said the scooters have GPS tracking systems and alarms that go off if someone tries to take one.

He said Tracy plans to work with Bird on better educating the public about the rules. French said if there is a pilot program in Modesto, the city would work with Bird to address concerns.

© 2021 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.