Washington Considers Electric Scooters

Drew Cusumano rides a Bird scooter near the MU Columns in June 2019. Washington is considering contracting with Lime Scooters, a different company. The company would provide the city with 75 scooters that could be used in the downtown area. 

A new mode of transportation is rolling into Washington, but it isn’t a plane, train or automobile; it’s an electronic scooter.

Lime Scooters’ proposal to bring 60 e-scooters to downtown Washington was approved by a one-vote margin Monday evening after Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy voted in favor of granting the company a 60-day trial period. The proposal was endorsed by Downtown Washington Inc., the city’s Tourism Commission and Traffic Commission and was supported by several downtown business owners.

Voting in favor of the proposal along with Lucy were Ward 2 Councilman Mark Wessels, Ward 3 Councilman Greg Skornia, Ward 4 Councilman Joe Holtmeier and Ward 4 Councilman Gretchen Pettet.

Voting against the proposal were Ward 1 Councilman Steve Sullentrup, Ward 1 Councilman Nick Obermark, Ward 3 Councilman Jeff Patke and Ward 4 Councilman Mark Hidritch.

Monday night’s vote kept many of the recommendations made by the city’s Traffic Commission, which proposed the scooters be barred from entering any designated festival area, that all complaints about the scooters be relayed to the commission and that the scooters could be used on the Riverfront Trail.

As was suggested by the commission, the council did not impose a curfew for when the scooters could no longer be used and did not impose a lowered speed. The scooters have a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour.

According to Lime Scooters Senior Operations Manager Allison Forms, who attended Monday’s meeting, the scooters will likely be delivered to Washington before May 1.

Forms said the company will soon announce plans for its “First Ride” event, which helps train first-time scooter users on how to properly start, drive and park the scooter. The company also will soon begin the process of hiring a part-time operations manager, who will oversee the nightly collection of scooters from downtown Washington and the placement of the scooters each morning. The company also plans to hire a team of “juicers,” or people who will pick up the scooters and charge them overnight.

Washington’s Community and Economic Director Sal Maniaci said he is hopeful that the city’s downtown shops and restaurant owners will see an economic benefit from the scooters.

“I don’t know if it is quantifiable or not, but if these scooters get both locals and visitors to shops easier, then that is a benefit. If it gets people from door-to-door of different businesses easier, businesses that they previously would have thought were too far to drive, then that is an economic benefit,” Maniaci said. “Hopefully this is a way for us to spend more time in our downtown area, exploring all that our downtown has to offer.”

Maniaci said he knows some have concerns about the number of scooters coming to Washington.

“Sixty scooters sounds like a lot, but when you think about the number of blocks that they are going to be spread out over and then consider that not all 60 are going to be out at one time, you realize that we aren’t talking about that many scooters,” Maniaci said. “Some will be out to be used, and others will be charging.”

According to Maniaci, the city can cancel the trial period at any time but would need to give Lime a 30-day notice. Forms said the company would still be able to collect the scooters within 1 to 2 business days of being notified.

Maniaci said the city also will work with Lime Scooters to address any issues that might come up, including downtown parking availability or implementing a fine for scooter users similar to the fine imposed by Bartlesville, Oklahoma, when city staff has to collect the scooter from an area it isn’t supposed to be.

City leaders on Monday also clarified that the city will receive 5 cents per trip on the scooter, not 5 cents per mile as was previously thought.

Maniaci said this didn’t sway his support for the scooters.

“The goal was not necessarily for this to be a financial benefit or revenue generator for the city but an economic benefit to the community as a whole,” Maniaci said. He added that the city is not spending any money to promote or manage the scooters.

Hidritch questioned Washington Police Chief Ed Menefee whether an intoxicated scooter user could be cited for driving while intoxicated, which Menefee said per city and state laws would not be possible. The user could be cited for property damage if they were to hit another vehicle or person’s property with the scooter, according to Menefee.

Patke said he appreciated all of the research that went into vetting Lime Scooters’ proposal and for the opportunity but that he couldn’t support it after learning how a family friend’s 6-year-old child was injured by a scooter in Kansas City. He did not specify if the child was hospitalized after being struck by a Lime scooter or a scooter belonging to one of the company’s competitors.

Downtown Washington Inc. was asked to survey downtown business owners upon the completion of the 60-day trial period and to provide those results to the city’s traffic commission.