Iowa Community Deadlocks on E-Scooter Pilot Approval

A deadlocked vote at Tuesday's Ames, Iowa, City Council meeting will now shelve a pilot program that would have developed a one-year dockless, pay-to-use e-scooter program throughout that community.

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(TNS) — A deadlocked vote at Tuesday's Ames, Iowa, City Council will shelve a pilot program that would have developed a one-year dockless, pay-to-use e-scooter program in Ames.

The motion failed via a 3-3 vote, with Council members Gloria Betcher, Tim Gartin and David Martin dissenting. Mayor John Haila, who holds the power to break ties, did not cast a deciding vote.

"I think the main pro is the fun factor and they are fun I've ridden scooters in multiple towns," Martin said. "How much weight do we really want to put on fun versus the risks that would come with it because there are significant risks associated with a program like this."

The City Council has entertained the option of bringing micromobility — transportation by a vehicle that weighs less than 1,100 pounds — to the city since late last summer.

Deb Schildroth, Ames assistant city manager said the use of the scooters could reduce the carbon emissions as well as create more jobs.

"We looked at positives being job creation when a scooter company comes into town a lot of the times, they will look to residents of the community to contract with to pick up the scooters and take them to a designated spot to get recharged or repaired," Schildroth said.

She also said that recent accounts of rider negligence that has resulted in deaths, and improper parking are major safety hazards.

"We've seen some of the research where people are riding the scooter unsafely, and even more recently some deaths related to scooter riding," Schildroth said. "So the safety of the rider and interacting with the public is the primary concern."

The biggest topic for council to consider, according to Schildroth is, "where would the scooters be ridden and parked."

Several pilot programs have been launched within the United States, including a 30-day program in Cedar Rapids. There, the scooters cost $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute to operate — the same cost estimate for an Ames-based service.

Proponents of the pilot program felt micromobility in Ames also could enhance recreation in the city, and that a pilot program could help the city better navigate through safety risks through ordinances.

"I'm supportive of trying some sort of pilot program," said council member Amber Corrieri. "I think that there have been lessons learned from other communities and the technology has improved to the point where ... I think there are restrictions and things that we can do to mitigate some not all of the challenges that might present themselves."

Council member Rachel Junck added that ensuring responsibility falls on the micromobility businesses could aid the city in ensuring safety in a micromobility program.

"So I'd be interested in doing a pilot program if maybe limiting the number of scooters or the amount of companies that can come in and start so we can really understand how the ordinances work and how we can have the enforcement work," Junck said.

In the public forum section of the meeting, Fred Buchanan said that the safety dangers of leaving scooters in walkways and near street corners are too much of a risk for both motorists and pedestrians.

"I'm definitely opposed to it," Buchanan said. "What flies in California might not fly in Ames, Iowa."

But Tuesday's decision doesn't mean the city won't continue to explore it's micromobility possibilities.

A motion made by Council member Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen directed staff to continue to continue exploring micromobility and measures the city could take to enforce regulations for a future program or micromobility company in Ames.

If the city eventually considered micromobility, there will be limits on its usage, especially on Iowa State University campus.

In 2018, the ISU Student Government passed a resolution that barred motorized scooters on campus, citing safety concerns of scooters blocking pedestrian pathways and fears that the scooters would be left on sidewalks and bike pathways on campus.

Despite the ban, Devon Leeson, the student ex-officio member on the council, said university support among students for e-scooters is positive, and more information on micromobility could create a shift in culture at the university.

"I have heard only support for this, albeit those people probably aren't thinking about all of the harms and they're thinking a lot about the fun," Leeson said. "I think that there is value in that. I mean one of our council goals that we just adopted was talking about making Ames a fun place, right?"

©2020 the Ames Tribune, Iowa. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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