Shared bike, scooter programs set for renewal New rules in the works

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Rentable bikes and scooters landed around Tacoma seemingly overnight last fall under pilot programs with the companies Lime and Bird.

Lime kicked off the system with 100 motor-assist bikes and 250 motorized scooters in September, while Bird landed with 250 scooters a month later under short-term agreements to see if Tacomans would use the vehicles for short trips across town rather than taking their cars. The pilot right-of-way agreements with the city were to last two months and were then granted separate 60-day extensions that expire in a matter of weeks. Under the extensions, Lime now offers 250 bikes and 500 scooters around the city, while Bird expanded to offer 500 scooters.

Extensions are now in the works to allow the companies to operate at least through the spring to allow them to collect more information about user patterns as well as for the city to ponder changes to its city codes and requirements.

Since the companies started operation, Lime and Bird have served nearly 20,000 unique users, who took 90,000 trips on the short-term shared bikes and scooters. The median trip for the users was just a half-mile. Those trips were largely through downtown Tacoma and Ruston Way.

“The popularity of the service indicates latent demand for a quick, easy way to move around the City for short trips,” according to a staff report for the City Council study session on the issue.

The council supported extensions of the pilot program to allow for more data to be collected, particularly during the spring since usage will likely rise as the weather improves. The extension will also allow the city to address concerns about the scooters and bikes that residents raised.

The concerns include the lack of equitable distribution of the bikes and scooters around the city, which is now required to be 50 percent outside of Ruston Way and downtown so residents of South Tacoma and the Eastside can try out the concept. Another concern is the safety factors of helmets, the speed of the scooters that can ride on sidewalks and the abandonment of the vehicles on sidewalks and yards rather than at central hubs or on city right of ways. Disability advocates have raised concerns about the vehicles blocking sidewalks that are used by people in wheelchairs, for example.

City-collected data found there were nine accidents involving the shared scooters but none involving the bicycles. The scooters can travel up to 15 miles per hour, faster if heading downhill, something councilmembers hope either throttling technology or franchise agreements with the companies could address.

“I just think they are really, really fast,” Councilmember Chris Beale said.

Another issue is that of how to encourage users to wear helmets either by requiring the companies provide them or some other system. The city also has to address contradictions in the law over where riders can travel. City law allows scooters on sidewalks, while state law does not. City codes also require helmets for scooters but not for bicycle riders.

“That could be something we require in an agreement,” Councilmember Conor McCarthy said, noting that adding four-wheel options might expand the ride-share and vehicle rental appeal.

A stakeholder group has been created to assist the City Council in crafting the emerging industry that cities have explored to address mobility and congestion issues through the scooter-sharing programs. Those recommendations will be presented to the council this spring and address a host of concerns and city law changes.

The city has a goal of having 22 percent of its residents travel by non-gas-powered means by 2040, at a time when Tacoma is expected to have 127,000 more residents than it does now.

To help identify and address questions, concerns and comments, the city is collecting feedback through its 311 phone and web system as well as by email at bikeshare@cityoftacoma.org

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