Pilot program to influence future of scooters in Gilbert

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Gilbert town staffers will look for a partner to study how dockless scooters and other micromobility options fit into the town’s transportation picture while addressing residents’ concerns, officials said.

Staff’s proposal for a pilot program came Jan. 22 at a Town Council study session in response to the rental scooters’ appearance in town.

After staff’s presentation at the meeting, council members voiced a range of responses from safety concerns to a desire to be a “tech forward” town that will find a way to make the devices work well in Gilbert.

Bird, a scooter rental service, deployed its scooters Nov. 18 in Gilbert without any forewarning to the town. The company also has scooters in several other Valley cities, and other scooter companies, including Lime and Razor, also operate in the Valley, though not yet in Gilbert.

“I know for me, being a rider of these mobility devices and having interest in it, our infrastructure today in my mind is not ready for this,” Vice Mayor Eddie Cook said, expressing a sentiment held by several council members.

The scooters are placed on sidewalks and other public areas and made available to rent on the spot using the company’s mobile phone application.

“Bird wants to provide an affordable and reliable transportation option to communities everywhere,” Bird said in an emailed statement before the council held its Jan. 22 work session. “Since Bird first landed in Gilbert, we have been thrilled to see residents and visitors embrace our transportation option as a way to get around town without having to get in the car. We remain committed to working closely with the [town]of Gilbert to develop a long-term solution to incorporate micro-mobility into the town’s transportation network.”

Pilot program

Town Manager Patrick Banger proposed the pilot program at the end of staff’s Jan. 22 presentation and after hearing council concerns.

Town officials will create a request for proposal to which e-scooter companies interested in forming a pilot-program partnership with the town can respond.

The selected partner company would then provide data on how the scooters are being used in town.
Council wanted the data then to be used in informing its decisions on how to proceed.

In the meantime, Bird is free to operate in Gilbert, town spokesperson Jennifer Harrison said.

The details of that program, including length of time and where the scooters would be allowed to operate, were left to staff to work out in the coming days. Staff wants the RFP ready for council review at its Feb. 7 meeting, Harrison said.

Mayor Jenn Daniels cautioned she wanted the program to last long enough to get significant data but not so long for the decision-making process to become awkward. Furthermore, she wanted a large enough area of the town used to get representative sample data.

The town also looked at how other Valley cities have responded to the scooters’ appearances in their towns. Future changes could include municipal code changes, usage and licensing fees, or prohibitions on use.

Scooters and the law

Gilbert Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Mark Marino said the municipal code has multiple sections that impact scooter usage, including prohibiting the scooters on sidewalks and on roadways with a speed limit of more than 25 mph.

But the code is silent on other issues, such as if the scooters can be parked on sidewalks of roadways that have more than a 25 mph speed limit.

“Our ordinances address the usage of the devices and operator safety,” Marino said. “Until recently, younger kids and children were the primary users and owners of the scooters.  The ordinances were initially enacted with the safety of the average user in mind.”

That is an important point to Marino, who points to laws that prohibit riding a bicycle on a sidewalk in some areas.

“As an officer, it would be inexcusable for me to request a young child to ride their bicycle in any bike lane of roadway,” he said.  “Officers must take a reasonable approach and apply the law in the spirit in which it was intended when these issues arise.  There are times when regulations lag behind current business models and technologies.”

That leaves room for the laws to be reviewed for changes or additions.

“Each jurisdiction must appropriately address and balance what’s best for their particular community with safety and business/technology advancement and evaluate appropriate enforcement of existing ordinances or adjust and implement ordinances [or]laws which address those specific issues,” Marino said.

Residents’ reactions

In response to concerns from residents, the town conducted an online transportation poll that found a plurality of respondents like the scooters’ presence in town. The concerns were about their appearance, safety and that they should be parked in designated areas.

Ronda Alcorn, a Gilbert resident and co-founder of We’re Moving Forward, a nonprofit group that puts on events and activities for people affected by traumatic brain injury, said she is concerned about the scooters’ hazards, including how often they are ridden without a helmet.

The scooters can sometimes be seen tipped over on a sidewalk, where they can be a tripping hazard, said Alcorn, whose son suffered a traumatic brain injury 13 years ago in an accident.

“A lot of folks have challenges,” Alcorn said. “If [people]are on a sidewalk, they may be ones that aren’t driving a vehicle to begin with for a reason. They may have visual impairments or balance issues or something else.”

The scooters also have supporters, including in the disabled community.

Melissa Gosper said she was a scooter skeptic until she found her 18-year-old daughter, Talea, who has several chronic conditions, could use the scooters on the rare occasions when she is feeling up to going out.

Gosper said she likes that the scooters give her daughter a sense of independence. She also acknowledges issues surrounding the scooters.

“There is an issue, and it’s not the scooters,” she said. “The issue is the people who are irresponsible.”

On its app, Bird cautions riders to wear a helmet. Bird users can request on the app a helmet be sent to them for the cost of the shipping. The company said it has given away 50,000 helmets in this manner.

The company also has formed a global safety advisory committee, which it said will create, advise and implement global programs, campaigns and products to improve the safety of those riding e-scooters.

One area that soured the council on Bird was the company introducing the scooters into town without warning.

“I don’t like the way it was rolled out,” Daniels said, even after expressing enthusiasm for the scooters. “I don’t think any of us do. … We are a relationship-based community, and we want to work with people, and that’s our goal.

“I would invite these groups to come and meet with us and see how we work together and how we work with our partners.”

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Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.
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