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Wichitans may be zipping around on rented electric scooters by summer

City officials test drive electric scooters

Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson rides an electric scooter during a demonstration. ( March 6, 2019 )
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Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson rides an electric scooter during a demonstration. ( March 6, 2019 )

Starting this summer, Wichitans may be able to zip around downtown and WSU on rented electric scooters.

City officials hope to use the time before then to craft regulations to prevent issues experienced in other cities.

City transit staff are working with companies interested in placing electric scooters around the city, where people could rent one through a phone app, similar to Bike Share ICT. Officials say the locations will primarily target downtown and the Wichita State University campus.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement about the potential that they could bring downtown,” said Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson.

Johnson joined council member Becky Tuttle and Wichita Transit director Mike Tann at a demonstration Wednesday afternoon. Nathan Huber, director of mobility partnerships at Gotcha, a ride-share company, provided a demonstration scooter for people to test ride.

“Scooters are kind of taking over,” Huber said. “It started with pedal bikes, and it’s moving toward scooters. As Michael (Tann) can attest to, the buzz on scooters is out of this world.”

Johnson said he anticipates scooters will be available by summer. Tann said the issue will likely go to the City Council in April, and if approved, scooters could be in Wichita by May. City staff have already discussed the issue with advisory boards.

Electric scooters started hitting streets at several cities across the United States over the past two years, but they quickly became controversial. Tann said city employees researched how other cities addressed a majority of the issues that arose in the past two years.

“We were fortunate in that when we got involved, almost everything has already been vetted by some other city that had problems,” he said.

Some cities — such as Denver and San Francisco — banned Bird, one of the electric scooter companies, last summer. In Kansas City, The Kansas City Star reported that hospitals were treating riders who had been injured. Critics of electric scooters said people would oftentimes leave the scooters wherever.

“We’re going through a process right now just working with the companies to make sure that we don’t have the issues that we’re seeing in some other cities,” Johnson said.

The primary concern when crafting a regulation is preventing scooters from being parked on sidewalks, where they could be in the way of other people and create an eyesore, Johnson said.

Huber said he thinks Gotcha has a solution — fining riders who are bad at parking.

The company can set a geo-fence on the city, with smaller 5-foot by 10-foot geo-fence “mobility hubs” for parking. A user must park their scooter in the hub at the end of the ride.

“If it doesn’t end in that hub, the user is going to get a notification through their app saying, ‘Hey, you’re about to park outside (a hub) and you’re going to be charged XYZ dollars for poorly parking this,’” Huber said.

If the rider chooses to park outside the hub and pay the fine, the company will send an employee to move the scooter.

Huber said the company can also electronically limit the maximum speed on the scooters in certain areas, such as downtown or at parks, or to set “no scoot zones” where scooters are prohibited. If a rider enters one of those areas, the scooter would notify the rider and come to a gradual halt.

They can also restrict the hours that the scooters operate.

Tann said officials plan to place a time restriction on scooter use, likely either dawn ‘til dusk or until 9 p.m. City staff may also be granted authority to ban use of scooters during bad weather, and company workers could pick up extra scooters during winter and other times of low use, so fewer are left around.

Tann said scooters would have to be ridden on streets.

Johnson took a scooter for a test ride at Wednesday’s demonstration. He said it was his first time, and riding it was easier than he expected. While younger people may be more likely to ride one of the electric scooters, anyone can use it, he said.

Tann said the city is in discussions with other scooter companies, not just Gotcha. There are no plans to restrict any companies from operating in Wichita.

But the city is considering implementing two fees for electric scooter companies. An application fee of $500-$1000, depending on how many scooters a company plans to have, and a per-usage fee of 15 cents. At an average of three rides a day per scooter, each one would generate about 45 cents a day in revenue for the city, Tann said.

The revenue from the fees would then be used for services used by scooter riders, such as better lighting and signage for bicycle paths.

Tuttle said that the scooters can be a fun way to move around the city and could help connect students to downtown while also providing another form of transportation for grocery shopping.

“I think it’s fantastic just to see other forms of transportation and recreation for the community,” Tuttle said.

She said that bike share and electric scooters users are more likely to walk to and from the hubs and their final destination.

“That’s not only great for health . . . but when you think about economic development, people aren’t just going to be cruising down the street going 40 mph. They’re going to be walking to be able to get to the scooter and then going slower, which means they might be stopping at a store that they wouldn’t have before or going to a restaurant that they wouldn’t have before.”

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