Politics & Government

Wichita clears path for electric rental scooters to operate downtown

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 )

You might soon be zipping around downtown Wichita on a rented scooter, but you’ll have to follow some rules.

The motorized electric scooters are common in big cities across the country and the Wichita City Council on Tuesday approved a pilot program to allow them to be deployed here for the first time.

Alan Kailer of Bike Walk Wichita welcomed the scooters, which he said will increase traffic in bike lanes and get motorists more used to looking out for people there. That, he said, “will enhance safety for all of the users.”

Companies that want to rent out scooters in Wichita will have to pay for the privilege through an administration fee of $500 to $1,000 and 15 cents for each ride rented.

The money will go to a city fund to establish and maintain bike paths, officials said.

Nathan Huber of Gotcha scooters said the company will evaluate the new ordinance and decide soon whether to move into Wichita. From decision to deployment would take about 60 days, he said.

Huber recently visited Wichita and brought some scooters for city officials and community members to try out.

“I’d say it’s absolutely an intriguing market to be in,” he said. “If it wasn’t I probably wouldn’t have come up there and put on a demonstration. . . . We’re definitely excited to possibly enter the market.”

In contrast to some cities where scooters operate largely unregulated, Wichita’s scooters will have to follow rules including:

Operators will have to be 18 or older to rent a scooter.

The top possible speed of rental scooters will be 15 mph.

Scooters won’t be allowed on sidewalks or streets where the speed limit for cars is 40 mph or more.

Scooters will have to automatically shut down at dusk or 9 p.m., whichever comes first.

City staff can immediately impound any scooter that’s blocking traffic or otherwise creating a hazard.

Operating or parking scooters will be prohibited in selected areas.

The base rental rate for Gotcha’s scooters is $1 for the first minute and 15 cents a minute for the rest of the ride. But the company would also offer monthly subscription service with set numbers of rides for a discounted price, Huber said.

Colleges and universities are prime markets for scooter services and the expectation is that Wichita State will become involved at some point. However, the campus is state property and the university will make its own rules, said Michael Tann, director of Wichita Transit.

He said he expects three to four companies to deploy between 100 and 500 scooters each to start. Eventually competition will probably winnow that down to one or two companies, he said.

All rental companies will have to meet city requirements for safety, maintenance and insurance, and share usage and safety data with the transit department.

Helmets are strongly recommended, but not required.

Companies have deals with manufacturers to offer helmets either for free or at deeply discounted prices to people who sign up for the apps to rent scooters.

Mayor Jeff Longwell noted that the rules governing scooters will be tighter than in other communities and asked how the city will inform people of the extra regulations they’ll have to follow.

Tann said the local rules will be incorporated into the user agreement to rent scooters, and likely will be displayed in large type at scooter rental stations around the city.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.
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