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Pittsburgh E-Scooter Program Headed for Harrisburg, Pa.

A push to extend Pittsburgh's e-scooter program — and to allow similar programs in other cities — advanced in the state Legislature on Wednesday but faces opposition from the governor’s office.

(TNS) — A push to extend Pittsburgh's ongoing experiment with so-called "e-scooters" — and to allow similar programs in other cities — advanced in the Legislature on Wednesday but faces opposition from the Shapiro administration, Sen. Jay Costa and a group of public transit riders.

In a split vote, the state Senate Transportation Committee passed a bill that allows the city to extend the two-year pilot program in which rented, electric motor-powered scooters can be operated legally on city sidewalks and streets. The program received good reviews in a letter from the administration of Mayor Ed Gainey. The sponsor of the bill that would extend the program, Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, said the program had proven its value in Pittsburgh.

"Low speed scooters have modernized the mobility options for residents and tourists," Mr. Laughlin said. "Low speed scooters provide innovative, flexible and low-cost transportation to help tens of millions of riders across the country. They help beat traffic congestion, pollution and stress by reducing car trips and increasing access to public transportation."

In a letter dated Tuesday, Kimberly Lucas, director of the city Department of Mobility and Infrastructure Department, asked lawmakers to approve the reauthorization.

"We've found e-scooters to be a valuable addition to the mobility network in Pittsburgh, having served nearly one million car-free trips in our city." Ms. Lucas wrote. She said transportation options that support residents without cars, "last mile commuters" and tourism help the city.

It also had support from committee Chairman Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria. But Mr. Langerholc said both the administration of Gov. Josh Shapiro and PennDOT were against the proposal.

And in an interview, Mr. Costa, D-Allegheny and the top Democrat in the Senate, blasted the way the pilot program has been handled in Pittsburgh. Mr. Costa teamed with Mr. Langerholc to sponsor the original bill two years ago.

The rental scooters, Mr. Costa said, have been found littering sidewalks, driveways, and even curb cuts and other areas intended to help the mobility of disabled persons. Mr. Costa used the example of a blind person using a familiar route, then encountering an abandoned e-scooter.

He also questioned the sense of restricting e-scooter use to those renting the devices from a specific vendor, and excluding private owners of e-scooters.

"I am very disappointed in the way this program has been administered in the city of Pittsburgh," Mr. Costa said. "In my view, a lot has to change."

The committee vote Wednesday was 9-5, with negative votes being cast by Sens. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny; John Kane, D-Chester; Tim Kearney, D-Delaware; Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny; and John DiSanto, R-Dauphin. Mr. Brewster said his opposition was due in part to negative reports on the program from a grassroots group, Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

In an interview Wednesday, Executive Director Laura Chu Wiens said the city had decided to put its resources behind "venture-backed private transportation technology" instead of working on programs that would demonstrably improve the "effectiveness and equity" of public transportation. She faulted the data collected by the private company that is operating the program that appeared to show success and said there was no proof it was "serving real transportation needs."

Ms. Wiens said, "We are actually concerned that it is making things worse in accessibility and equity."

The bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration, but Mr. Costa said he planned to convene a group of people in the next few weeks to come up with a better approach to the legislation.

© 2023 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.