Pedestrians, stay on your toes. People in downtown and midtown Omaha could start renting electric scooters as soon as next week.
The City Council will vote Tuesday on a pilot program that would place up to 1,500 smartphone-rented scooters in Omaha through November.
Both scooter companies selected for the pilot program, Lime and Spin, say they are prepared to roll out the GPS-connected devices as early as Wednesday.
“There’s obviously huge interest,” said Nico Probst, a Lime representative who’s working with the city. “We’re excited about Omaha.”
The purpose of the dockless scooters, beyond a new twist on a classic ride, is environmental, Probst said. One-third of Lime riders would have driven a car to their destination, if not for the scooters.
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Other cities where the scooters are deployed include Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; San Diego; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Kansas City, Missouri.
Omaha’s six-month trial should win council approval Tuesday, based on interviews with council members, despite some reservations about how the scooters would be parked and operated.
Council members Aimee Melton, Pete Festersen, Rich Pahls, Brinker Harding and Chris Jerram said it’s the right approach to use a pilot program to iron out the kinks of a new transportation option.
Several members, including Jerram, who represents south-central Omaha, said they would watch the scooter program closely for how it affects nonriders.
Scooters would be rented for timed, one-way trips. They would be left where they’re ridden to. That has caused problems in some cities, Jerram said.
Scooters sometimes get left on streets, in parking spots and near business entrances and risk tripping people or blocking sidewalk access for disabled patrons, he said.
Company representatives say they want avoid to avoid those problems in Omaha by educating renters on proper parking.
The companies’ smartphone apps teach new riders how to ride and where to leave the scooters.
Lime’s app, for example, asks riders to snap a photograph of where they’ve parked the scooter so others can rate their parking job.
Customers could rent the scooters on the apps for $2 to $3 for a 10-minute jaunt.
Harding, who represents west Omaha, said he appreciated the scooter companies’ willingness to work with the city.
He said the companies could have just shown up and started renting out scooters under current law.
Instead, they’ve worked with Public Works and the Planning and Law Departments on a legal framework for the scooters’ use.
Among the restrictions negotiated: The scooters have to be ridden on roads — no sidewalks — and only on streets with speed limits 35 mph and lower.
They could be ridden only between 5 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., and would be “geofenced” from going over the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and in other restricted areas.
Geofencing is a fancy term for using GPS mapping to limit where the scooters can go, allowing them to be turned off in certain areas.
Helmets would not be required, though they’re recommended. The risk of injury from riding a scooter that goes up to 15 mph is real, studies show, and can include head injuries.
Both companies agreed to pay a $5,000 license fee and 11 cents per ride to Park Omaha, which would oversee the pilot program. The funds would cover the city’s administrative costs.
The city expects the highest ridership in downtown Omaha, from the Capitol District to the Old Market, and in neighborhoods like Benson, Dundee and Blackstone.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha also expects students to ride the scooters from its Pacific Street campus to the main campus on Dodge Street, city officials said.
Company employees would collect the scooters every night and charge them. Crews then would redistribute them for the next day based on anticipated demand.