Politics & Government

500 e-scooters hit a speed bump at Wichita City Hall when e-commuters question plan

As a rental company announced plans to put 500 electric scooters on Wichita streets, the City Council delayed allowing that while it tries to allay the concerns of scooter commuters.

Zagster, the company that provides the rental bikes to Bike Share ICT, and its partner, Spin, had expected to have the e-scooters on the streets of central Wichita by the end of this month.

They announced they would deploy the scooters as soon as the city finalizes an ordinance setting rules for their use. But that deployment, and hiring for 30 part-time jobs, is now on hold.

That ordinance — first approved last week — was scheduled for a perfunctory final vote on Tuesday.

But then resident Matt Bradshaw raised concerns about unintended consequences during public comments.

At Mayor Jeff Longwell’s suggestion, the council pulled the ordinance off the consent agenda and delayed it for a week for some final tweaking

Bradshaw, who lives in west Wichita, commutes to work on his electric scooter and said the rules — designed for the low-speed streets downtown — could prevent him from doing that.

“It’s my mode of transportation,” he said. “If you put this ordinance into play, you’re stopping me from going to work.”

The new regulations ban small electric scooters from sidewalks and from streets where the speed limit is 40 mph or above — which in practical terms means streets up to 35 mph.

Bradshaw said he rides about 2 1/2 miles every day from his home near Central and Ridge to his work at Maize and 4th.

Speed limits would keep him from riding on Central, Ridge, Tyler or Maize, essentially blocking him into his residential neighborhood.

Another problem, Bradshaw said, was the proposed rules also prohibit scooter use after dusk or 9 p.m., whichever comes first.

“Wintertime, 6:45 it is dark in Wichita,” he said. “You’re telling me that if I’m late coming home from work . . . I’m at risk of getting a ticket and the $35 impound fee . . . I shouldn’t have to worry about this going home from work.”

Casey Boultinghouse and Nathaniel Richardson, of the group eSkate Wichita, were in the audience at the meeting and said they appreciated the city taking a little extra time to work out the wrinkles.

Boultinghouse, for example, rides electric skateboards for transportation and for his work as a filmmaker when he shoots rolling shots.

The ordinance appears to ban scooters from the sidewalks and motorized skateboards from the streets, although they are similar in operation, speed and maneuverability

“First and foremost we definitely want (personal electric vehicles) here, absolutely,” Boultinghouse said. “But we just want a little bit more clarification on some of the ordinances that classify different vehicles.”

Timothy Ericson, the founder and chief business officer of Zagster, watched the meeting and said he’s disappointed that the ordinance didn’t come together on Tuesday.

The company had planned to hire 30 people on Wednesday and Thursday. “Unfortunately it looks like we’re going to have to push that back” because of the delay at the city, he said.

The company will go ahead with scheduled interviews on Wednesday but may not extend job offers until after the city situation is clarified. A hiring fair scheduled Thursday will probably be canceled, Ericson said.

Zagster hires part-time employees to collect and charge the scooters at the end of the riding day and put them back out into circulation each morning, Ericson said.

Some other companies take a more loosely organized “gig economy” approach, letting people just download an app and go to work if they want to earn extra money charging scooters, he said.

Ericson said as far as he knows, there was never any intent to hold personally owned scooters to the same regulations as rentals.

“We understand that we need to change that,” Erickson said. “But unfortunately (with the) City Council schedule and how long it takes to get on the agenda, it might be a few weeks before we’re able to launch, unfortunately.”

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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.