Tualatin eyes pilot program for electric scooters
Tualatin plans to pursue a pilot program that would allow electric scooters to zip around town in an effort to reduce car trips and congestion, along with a goal of getting residents to areas of the city that lack transportation connections.
During a Tualatin City Council work session earlier this month, councilors agreed to move forward on a contract with Bird, one of the largest suppliers of stand-up electric scooters to municipalities in the nation.
Nic Westendorf, Tualatin's deputy public works director, said city staff talked with company representatives who asked about bringing the scooters to Tualatin, noting that use of the scooters in other cities has gone pretty well.
Michael Covato, a revenue and partnerships manager with Bird, told councilors that the company currently supplies electric scooters to 350 cities, making Bird the largest shared mobility scooter company in the world. Those scooters are generally used for multiple short trips each day, he said.
"(We're) really looking to really solve what they call that first/last mile problem," Covato said.
Users are required to download a mobile app on their phone and go through a safety tutorial to start using Bird's scooters. Covato said most riders use the scooters for about 10 minutes per trip.
Each scooter is equipped with a device that connects to the internet (essentially a cellphone hookup) as well as a GPS, all of which allows Bird to control where the scooters can go and what speed they travel at, as well as to monitor their exact location, said Covato.
The electric scooters, which top out at 15 mph, can be blocked from a specific area of the city so they don't interfere with any Tualatin special event, Covato said.
Covato said the scooters would have a fleet manager, someone who is locally based, who would live in the area to address any problems such as moving scooters that are inappropriately parked. He said since that person is hired locally, the revenue stays in the community.
An example of last-mile destinations that those scooters might access include the WES station and TriMet bus stops, city officials say.
"Finally, with traffic congestion being an issue, I think in just about every community in the United States, and one that was mentioned to me specifically within Tualatin, I think this is a way that we can very effectively with a small fleet, remove some of the cars that are creating some of that and offer alternatives for people to get around," said Covato.
Covato said they could start with what they consider a small fleet of between 100 to 150 scooters, where they likely wouldn't present the level of clutter often seen in Portland.
"I do want to be very clear when I say this, we're not looking for any investment or any subsidy from the city of Tualatin for implementing this system. This is something where Bird will be covering all the upfront costs with all the ongoing expenditure for allowing it to be operational within the community," said Covato.
During questions from council members, Councilor Christen Sacco asked about reliability. She said she used an electric scooter with friends while in Seattle, and they were unable to get all four scooters to work at the same time.
Covato said being one of the oldest electric scooter companies in the country, Bird has fixed many problems the scooters had and have an extremely reliable system.
Councilor Valerie Pratt said she had concerns about safety, having observed scooters when they were introduced in Portland several years ago.
"My understanding is they follow the bike road rules, but there were people on the roads, there were people in the (bike lanes) and there were people on the sidewalks and it was really kind of a confusing, big mess," said Pratt.
Covato said Bird offers safety training for users, adding that 99% of the state laws pertaining to bicycles also pertain to electric scooters. He noted they are about as safe as bicycles to ride.
In response to a question from Mayor Frank Bubenik over having seen numerous scooters clumped in a single location in Portland at times, Covato said fleet managers will prioritize collecting them in specific areas when needed.
The council asked that city staff draft an ordinance that would approve the pilot program. The council will then vote on that ordinance.
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