The scooters are grounded as Omaha’s pilot effort on the new mobility tech comes to an end, and their future in the city is up in the air.
In interviews with The World-Herald, three key city leaders expressed some uncertainty, concern and hesitation about scooters and the possibility of their return.
Mayor Jean Stothert, who authorized the pilot program, said she’s “on the fence” about the idea of having scooters back.
City Councilman Chris Jerram, who represents most of the focus areas in the trial run, said scooters are too dangerous right now to be used on roadways without riders wearing helmets and without other safeguards, such as on-street protected bike and alternative vehicle lanes.
Councilman Pete Festersen, who represents the trial area in Benson, said he’s reserving judgment about the scooters until he sees the data collected during the pilot, which started in May and officially ended Friday.
Festersen said he loves that the scooters gave users a transportation alternative and provided people with an element of fun and spontaneity. But he said he also understands people’s concerns about safety and clutter as scooters are dropped.
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“It seems citizens either love or hate them,” he said.
The scooters were certainly popular for riders as they burst onto the scene. According to the city, scooter companies Lime and Spin recorded 208,692 rides as of Wednesday.
That came out to an average of 1,140 rides per day across Omaha, lasting on average 15 minutes, 43 seconds and 1.1 mile per ride.
But some people found the scooters to be a menace, as riders zoomed past them on sidewalks where they weren’t supposed to go or broke other scooter rules.
Like with helmets. Riders had to agree to wear a helmet to ride. Few riders actually did.
Or with age restrictions. Riders are supposed to be at least 18 years old. In September, Lime and Spin tightened their procedures after a 9-year-old was seriously injured in a scooter crash. As of September, Omaha-area hospitals treated 65 scooter injuries.
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Stothert said public opinion will be important in deciding the future of scooters. She said there’s no guarantee the city will move forward with scooters.
“I’m not sure where we’re going to go with this. I really don’t,” she said. “I’m kind of on the fence with it now.”
For the next step, the city will collect a variety of data on the scooters: ridership numbers from the companies, police citations and warnings, injuries recorded at hospitals and survey results. The city has been surveying public opinion online and will be surveying riders.
Another question involves people’s motivation behind renting scooters and to what extent scooters took cars off the street. Other cities have found a portion of riders are using scooters instead of taking a car or a rideshare. Rides may be short, but scooters have been called “last mile” transportation.
Stothert said the city will be reviewing a report from Portland, Oregon, which ran a scooter pilot program in 2018.
She said she’s particularly concerned about injuries.
She also said she’s disappointed with the scooter companies’ public education and outreach. Lime, for instance, held a safety event last week — one week before the pilot program’s end — in below-freezing temperatures.
The mayor said that made no sense and that the scooter companies need to do vigorous public education and outreach.
“I don’t think they did a very good job,” she said.
Nico Probst, Lime’s director of government relations, said the company appreciated partnering with the city and is looking forward to talking with the city about next steps.
Probst said the pilot program was a success and showed the demand for scooters in Omaha.
“What the demand for the program has shown is micromobility is not going to go away,” he said. “People are looking for alternatives to the car.”
Probst said he has not seen a city end its initial program and “call it a day.” But sometimes, he said, the regulations change.
Asked about helmet use, Probst said Lime wants to make it a habit, calling it a focus for the company. He said Lime wants to offer helmet distributions. But also, some people’s habits will change when they know they can regularly use scooters as a form of transportation, he said.
Probst also acknowledged that riders go on sidewalks. But he said many riders don’t feel safe in the street, and having protected bike and scooter lanes make all the difference for those riders.
Lime will be providing data on which corridors had the highest ridership, which he hopes will lend the city information on what streets might benefit from protected lanes.
“Those are places we really want to work with the city on addressing,” he said.
The issue seems destined to go before the City Council. If the city moves forward with scooters and scooter rules, Stothert said she would propose an ordinance.
If the answer is “no,” the council could consider a ban to keep scooter companies from offering rides without regulations.
Jerram said his constituents and others have made clear how opposed they are, although he added that he recently received about 20 similar emails of support.
Julie Harris, executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska, said all major cities are grappling with how to handle scooters.
Harris said she supported them as another mode for active transportation. But if Omaha doesn’t want scooters on sidewalks, it needs safer infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes, she said.
“In theory, we really like scooters. But we need safer places for them to be.”