With the planned expansion of a Chittenden County bike-share program, South Burlington residents might be able to zip around town on electric-assisted bikes and electric scooters this summer.
This plan is the second phase of the bike share’s development, which seeks to expand the number of bikes and drop-off spots, known as “hubs,” available to users. Additionally, South Burlington and the other cities hosting the bike share are considering a one-year pilot program that would add electric scooters to the fleet of bicycles.
“This is an interesting opportunity to test out the things that we might want to try,” said Paul Conner, Director of Planning and Zoning.
The program, Greenride Bike Share, is a collaboration between the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, the Chittenden Area Transport Management Association, the University of Vermont and Champlain College. It currently serves South Burlington, Burlington, and Winooski.
Since the bike share’s inception in April 2018, Gotcha Bike, the company that operates the bike share, has identified this summer as a target to switch to an all-electric fleet. Stakeholders are working to gain approval from the city governments to move forward with the expansion and initiate the scooter test run, Conner said. The electric bicycles would not have a throttle that the cyclist can control, but instead they have a motor that kicks in when taken uphill, so that the sensation is similar to pedaling on a flat surface.
To understand how to best implement this rollout, the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and other partners have been working with South Burlington officials to examine existing policies and determine whether any changes must be made to accommodate the scooters, Conner said.
“The general consensus is that e-bikes are bikes… the scooters are an area we are asking them to look into,” he said.
Greenride and its partners are facing a tight deadline, as they hope to make the new bikes and scooters available by early summer but want to get city officials’ feedback before putting the expansion to an official vote, Conner said.
City Council Chair Helen Riehle knows there is interest in having the council consider expanding the program, but she has not heard of any of its details or of any push to add it to future agendas, she said.
When the discussion does arise, Riehle thinks that the council is likely to take the advice of civic committees like the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, she said.
At a March 6 meeting of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, members discussed how to ensure that the additional bikes and scooters would be used and managed safely and responsibly, but by and large were in favor of the new developments.
“As long as there’s policies in place… these are things we are going to want,” said committee member Donna Leban.
While the scooters have the potential to encourage widespread, positive changes in how South Burlington citizens travel in their city, essential questions remain concerning how they should be ridden and managed, Leban said.
Scooter-shares have popped up in cities all over the country, sometimes leading to controversy over haphazard management and reckless usage. A major concern among committee members was how to disperse hubs around South Burlington in a way that would be most convenient to riders without endangering pedestrians.
To combat this, Gotcha Bike plans to employ a technology known as “geofencing,” wherein they establish virtual borders that mark the general area in which the scooters can be ridden as well as the hubs where the scooters should be stored, said Bob Dale, General Manager of Greenride. Riders who leave their scooters outside of a hub have to pay a small fine, while those who end their ride outside of the larger system area pay a larger fee, Dale said.
Taking a cue from another Gotchabike bike-share in Florida, Greenride officials have considered marking the scooter’s virtual hubs with bright paint and eye-catching signage, Dale said.
“Utilizing a hub style system really helps with uniformity, keeps the system clean and… helps make it a little more organized,” Dale said.
Committee members raised other concerns, including whether the city would have to repaint or widen bike lanes or make other infrastructure changes to accommodate the potential spike in bike usage; whether the scooters should be allowed on sidewalks; and how Greenride partners would identify the most strategic locations for new hubs.
Despite these concerns, the committee plans to voice their support of the scooter trial run and new bicycles to the council, said committee member Cathy Frank.
By monitoring how the scooters are used, city officials and Gotchabike staff will be able to figure out how to best regulate the new technology, said committee member Shawn Goddard.
“We don’t have to anticipate all the issues, let’s let the data drive that,” Goddard said.