Safety Study Will Come Before Scooters in Madison, Wis.

If the governor signs the legislation, electric scooters would be allowed in the city under the rules. But the rentals would be banned under an ordinance that prohibits their use before a pilot program has been tested.

by Dean Mosiman, The Wisconsin State Journal / July 8, 2019
David Kidd

(TNS) — With electric scooters proliferating and legalization looming in the state, Madison will first study experiences in other cities before a pilot program next year to see if their use here can be non-disruptive and safe.

Currently, electric scooters are prohibited in the city under a statewide ban.

But the state Legislature recently approved a bipartisan measure awaiting Gov. Tony Evers’ signature that would allow electric scooters on roads and sidewalks.

Under the state legislation, scooters must weigh less than 100 pounds, have handlebars and an electric motor and have a maximum speed of not more than 20 mph, but not operate at more than 15 mph. Local governments could ban use on sidewalks or streets with speed limits of more than 25 mph and restrict rentals to the public.

If Evers signs the legislation, privately owned electric scooters would be allowed in Madison under the state rules. But rental scooters would be banned under a city ordinance approved last year that prohibits their use before a pilot program has been tried. It’s been the city’s intention to ban the scooters unless the pilot study can demonstrate their usefulness, effectiveness and safe operation.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and five City Council members introduced a resolution in mid-May authorizing the city Department of Transportation to do a pilot study once changes in state law allow scooters to operate and park on public streets.

But city officials put off consideration of the resolution because there was no practical way to conduct a meaningful pilot program before the onset of cold weather, city transportation director Tom Lynch said. Instead, the city will take the coming months to review “a growing bunch of data on safety considerations” and evaluate the experience of other cities, he said.

Then, the sponsors could tweak the resolution and perhaps proceed with a pilot program next spring, Lynch said.

The strategy comes as the city embraces electric-aided travel. Last month, the city and Trek Bicycles announced that Trek’s popular Madison BCycle bike-sharing program would convert its familiar red fleet to white, pedal-assisted electric bikes. Madison is the first city in the nation to fully convert its bike-sharing system to e-bikes.

Electric scooters, essentially motorized versions of Razor scooters, have been emerging in cities across the country. Usually, customers use an app to view locations of available scooters, scan a code on the scooter through the app to activate and pay for it, and leave the scooter when they’re done.

“It wasn’t that long ago that no one knew what an electric scooter was,” said Renee Callaway, the city’s pedestrian-bicycle administrator. “Now, when you travel, you see them in lots of different places.”

The scooters are appealing to people who want to ride for fun as well as those who don’t want to walk long distances or ride a bike, and are also intriguing as a way to connect with public transit systems, Callaway said.

But there are growing safety concerns, as well as disruption or hazards in the public right of way, especially in a city like Madison where food carts, vendors and others compete for limited public space, she said.

The Department of Transportation’s initial plan for a pilot program envisioned selecting two or three companies and starting with about 600 scooters. The number of scooters could be adjusted based on usage and compliance with requirements, and scooters could be removed depending on weather or special events like Freakfest.

The scooters’ speed would be limited, and they would need to be equipped with a brake and front and rear lighting, be able to stand securely upright when parked and be equipped with an on-board GPS unit that can report its location at all times. Scooters would be allowed on roads with speed limits up to 25 mph, on bike lanes on roads with higher speed limits, and on bike paths. They would not be allowed on sidewalks.

There also would be a reduced pricing option for low-income residents.

The city would collect fees for program monitoring, evaluation and other costs. The pilot would provide data on usage, repair and maintenance, distribution problems and conflicts, crashes and more.

The delay in starting the pilot will let the city examine emerging safety concerns and also take into account fast-changing technologies, Callaway said.

Last year, the city of Milwaukee sued Bird Rides Inc. after the company began renting scooters there without a regulatory framework for the devices. The city and company reached a settlement in May that calls for the company to bring scooters back once such a framework is in place.

©2019 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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