by Marilyn Shelton
Dockless scooters from Lime and Bird have become a part of Salt Lake City’s street landscape, ever since they arrived in late summer.
“Whether it’s a Green Bike or a scooter, the exciting thing about these options is that they have the power to clear our air by bridging the first mile-last mile gap which keeps many people from utilizing the city’s transit network,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski in October.
“[The mayor] wants people who live more than a quarter of a mile from the bus or TRAX stop to have more access to transit. They can ride that scooter from their apartment or home to the nearest bus stop or maybe all the way downtown or wherever they need to go,” said Matthew Rojas, Director of Communications of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office.
That is how the city came to partner with dockless scooter companies Bird and Lime in an October safety event called “Walk Your Wheels.” The main message of the event was to encourage individuals to use alternate means of transportation, and to follow the rules.
Lime and Bird passed out approximately 700 free helmets and flyers with scooter safety tips at the event.
To encourage scooter riders to stay off the sidewalks and in the bike lanes, Mayor Biskupski spray painted a stencil on the sidewalk near 300 South and 160 East that read, “This is the place for walking.” She also said, “We all have the responsibility to respect the rules of the road and the sidewalks. We must remember that those who choose to walk in our city are also a part of the solution and the sidewalk needs to remain a comfortable place for them.”
“I know of plenty of people who’ve been frightened or nearly hit by a person on a scooter on the sidewalk…Right now we want to use [the scooters] as a new way to get around town, but you know, eventually people could be getting tickets for it,” said Paul Murphy, Deputy Director of Communications from the Mayor’s Office.
“Salt Lake City has great bike lanes in every part of our city, and we want to encourage cyclists and scooters to utilize these lanes whenever possible. The city is continuing to partner with Lime and Bird to make scooters part of our multi-motive transit system,” said Mayor Biskupski.
The dockless scooters travel about 15 mph and apps for both companies dispense safety advice including, “No bikes blocking the public walkway please,” from Bird, and a reminder on the Lime app to use a helmet. There is also a legal disclaimer on the Bird app that says that riders ride at their own risk.
The Bird app requires a driver’s license before riding the scooters, to certify that riders are at least 18 years of age. Both companies require riders to take a photo of where you leave a scooter so that other users can easily locate them after you end your ride by scanning the barcode on the vehicles.
Daniel Franklin, Operations Manager for Lime, addressed the Walk Your Wheels press conference: “We are looking forward to working with the mayor and the city to make scooter riding as safe as possible, not only for the riders but for the pedestrians on the sidewalk as well. We’re going to work with the city to help implement these rules and guidelines.”
Sam Reed, Bird’s Director of Partnerships for the Central Region, said, “40 percent of car rides are two miles or less. Bird is a last-mile vehicle sharing solution.” “Safety is paramount to us at Bird...It’s our top priority to support the well-being of our riders and the communities in which they ride,” he added.
Reed also spoke about the launch of the “Bird Watchers” program in Salt Lake. “Bird Watchers are a reminder to help improve safe walking on sidewalks and you’ll start seeing them out on the streets in the days ahead. They’ll provide ground support including re-parking of the Bird vehicles so that Birds do not obstruct the right-of-ways.”
At the event, Lime and Bird each pledged to donate $1 per scooter per day to the city to be used for safety outreach and for scooter infrastructure improvement, which may include the placement vehicles. Reed from Bird said, “This is money that will go to improving the already fantastic bike lane infrastructure that Salt Lake City has.”
Murphy from the mayor’s office said that 500 scooters are currently allowed daily placement by each scooter company so, “That’s potentially $1,000 a day that they could be donating toward helping build up Salt Lake City’s scooter infrastructure.”
Of the 1,000 daily scooters allowed in the city, 100 of the scooters are to be placed west of I-15, according to a temporary operating permit in place since July with the companies. Murphy said that the pledged $1 per scooter per day could potentially help with bike lane route expansion on the west side.
This winter, Lime placed e-bikes in the city. According to Jon Larsen of the Salt Lake City Transportation Division, Lime has deployed about 130 e-bikes so far. Lime is required to pull a scooter for every bike deployed. As of December 6, there were only eight bikes on the west side, but some of them may have been ridden downtown.
“We know that transportation is a bigger problem on the west side. Not everyone lives next to a bus or TRAX station. People living in Rose Park and Glendale, those areas, they need some sort of transportation to get them to a bus or TRAX,” Murphy said.
Out of three people selected at random on Salt Lake City streets and interviewed by The West View about their scooter riding habits and usage, all three of them said that they preferred the riding experience of Bird to Lime. All three also said that they did not use a helmet when riding the scooters, although they all said they followed the rules when riding the scooters. All three riders said that they had a car, but were using the scooters to bridge the first mile-last mile gap and for what public transportation didn’t cover. All three said that they felt safe riding the scooters and hadn’t had any accidents, although one said, “I don’t like riding on the sidewalk. Too many people.”
“Bird has bigger tires and more stability,” said a male scooter rider who asked to remain anonymous, when asked about his preference.
“Bird is a little bit nicer,” said Emily Hauns of Downtown Salt Lake City.
“Bird. Fewer bumps,” said a man who would identify himself only as J.D., who said that he had relocated to Salt Lake City from St. George. “The scooters are so convenient; there is one on every corner. I have ridden them up to seven miles,” he said.
Two of the people polled said that they use the scooters to run errands, and one said that they use the scooters to go back and forth to work.
According to Rojas, “Walk Your Wheels” is an ongoing scooter education and safety outreach campaign with more events planned in Salt Lake in the future. Rojas said that that the rain in early October slowed completion of the sidewalk safety campaign stencils, but more safety messages will be painted throughout the city eventually.