Briefcase, check. Coffee, check. Scooter? Commutes could soon look very different for South Burlington residents.
City councilors inched closer to permitting an electric-scooter (e-scooter) test pilot program following a presentation from Greenride Bikeshare community manager Bob Dale at the council’s regular meeting on Monday.
Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner will begin a 90-day examination of two city ordinances – parks and highway transportation – to determine how and when South Burlington might see e-scooters on its streets. Any ordinance changes will be submitted to the city council at which point final approval of the pilot may be granted, council chair Helen Riehle said. If the path is smooth, e-scooters could roll off the lot as soon as Memorial Day, according to Dale.
“We’re really trying to shift people’s thinking that biking, and now scooting, is an actual transportation option,” Dale
The proposal is part of Greenride’s plan to expand its bikeshare program across Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski. Currently, the company has 105 seven-gear bicycles for rent at 17 hubs around the municipalities.
Greenride bills its Gotcha e-bike and e-scooters as a “first-mile, last-mile” form of transportation meant to help commuters ditch their vehicles on short city escapades. Bikes are rented at a per minute, month or annual rate.
This summer, Greenride managers hope to release 200 e-assist bicycles – with motors that kick in when a rider is pedaling uphill - and 200 e-scooters, plus create a minimum of eight new hubs across the three municipalities. While the bike hubs currently reside at destinations near Burlington’s Church Street and Winooski’s mills, Dale says Greenride looks to make “origin hubs” in residential areas.
Getting onboard a Greenride vehicle is simple. Under the proposed system, users need only download the Gotcha app to pay for and unlock bikes and scooters around the cities. Riders without smartphones can instead release the vehicles using a Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) card.
Smartphone users can track the location of rental vehicles, their battery charge levels and where other hubs are via the app.
At Monday’s meeting, city councilors expressed concern for both rider-safety and e-bike/scooter storage.
“I know there are some horror stories out there ... communities with scooters littered (around),” councilor Tim Barritt said.
But Dale quelled their fears, noting geo-fencing technology, which allows Greenride managers to control both where and how quickly the bikes and scooters can go. If an e-bike or e-scooter strays from an approved area, Greenride can stop the wayward operator by cutting their vehicle’s motor off. The company also caps vehicle speeds to a maximum of 20 mph on e-bikes and 15 mph on e-scooters. Plus, Greenride plans to have employees monitor and retrieve scooters and bikes that aren’t returned to a hub during the day and to store the vehicles inside at night.
As for maintenance, the company regularly repairs its fleet at each of its 50 U.S. sites.
“We’re not going to be leaving you guys with landfills full of scooters or bikes,” Dale said.
While there is some user-risk to operating e-bikes and e-scooters on busy city streets, Dale said introducing the vehicles to roadways is one of the most effective ways to foster more bike-friendly cities.
“Every presentation I go to, people ask, ‘oh is that going to piss off drivers?’” He said. “That’s my goal, to (disrupt the status quo) so that we can shift thinking.”
Although city street conditions may leave something to be desired, Dale said the sturdy design of e-bikes and e-scooters make them pothole-ready. The bikes weigh about 60 pounds and feature a basket with a cupholder and front and rear lights. The scooters weigh 43 pounds and feature a wide base plate, as well as front and rear lights.
No official contracts have been signed to permit the proposed electric fleet but Greenride has heard positive feedback in its conversations with Winooski and Burlington, Dale said. The company hopes to have definitive answers soon so it can start its new venture this summer.
South Burlington made an initial $10,000 investment into the Greenride bikeshare program last year. The newest proposal won’t require any additional funds, Dale said. Rather, Greenride has proposed to invest $1 per rented scooter per day into Chittenden Area Transportation Management Association’s sustainable transportation fund to help with bicycle outreach, infrastructure and safety efforts across the county.
“We’re really excited to be a partner,” Conner said. “This really has the potential to be a game changer in the way transportation takes place in Chittenden County.”