116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Before Cedar Rapids brings back a popular scooter and bike rental program for a fourth year, the question facing the City Council is whether to let the devices stay or order the vendor to scoot.
The council is slated Tuesday to consider a three-year contract extension with Chicago-based VeoRide, the vendor that owns and operates hundreds of electric-assisted bikes and scooters — a program that has faced scrutiny by some citizens and elected officials who are wary of the disorderly and unsafe use of the electric devices in downtown and surrounding districts including MedQuarter, NewBo, Czech Village and Kingston Village.
With contract revisions proposed to address these concerns, the council may take a wait-and-see approach to OK the modifications and in the future review whether the changes address the worries.
The program brings hundreds of bikes, standup scooters and sit-down scooters to town for people to unlock and ride using a mobile application for a fee, which varies depending on the device. Around the United States, and in Cedar Rapids, the public is split over the electric scooters — some love the inexpensive, fun way to get around town, while others are infuriated with riders who disregard pedestrians and traffic as they whiz around.
Ridership over the years has seen an uptick, particularly with the black-and-teal electric-assisted scooters — coming as more people have sought outdoor recreation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But some council members have bristled at the boost in popularity — taking issue with the scooters cluttering downtown sidewalks and unsafe or illegal riding of the devices, sometimes by youth who are too young to operate the scooters yet manage to secure a set of wheels anyway.
Two children under age 12 last year were treated for life-threatening injuries at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics after they were struck by a vehicle on Mount Vernon Road SE while riding the scooters, despite being under the riding age of 18.
Proposed changes to the contract, awarded to the vendor in 2019, include technology requiring users to upload their government-issued identification to ensure they are of legal riding age; monthly monitoring of police calls for service by the vendor to adjust operations as needed; and reducing the time for devices being parked outside of marked areas from 72 to 48 hours.
Other changes include:
• A quiz at the beginning of each riding season to provide safety education for all users
• Additional designated parking areas in strategic locations throughout the riding zone
• Special events will be geofenced to bar users from riding through busy pedestrian areas
• Geofencing and verbal audio warning technology will be used to deter their use on sidewalks, in addition to signage already placed
The council also recently approved updates to the municipal code regulating bicycles and micromobility devices to help police enforce their proper operation within Cedar Rapids.
Additionally, the city’s communications division is developing a micromobility safety education campaign to remind people of not riding on sidewalks, the limit of one rider per device, proper parking procedures and VeoRide’s fine system.
Some cities around the nation have multiple vendors, such as Bird and Lime, but Cedar Rapids in 2019 awarded a contract to this single vendor to operate the program at no cost to the city. Cedar Rapids did make a one-time payment of $65,000 to VeoRide in 2020 to support the program. This agreement has limited the number of bikes and scooters and given the city more control, compared with other municipalities with multiple vendors and hundreds if not thousands of the devices.
The pilot program started with 150 e-bikes and only a few dozen scooters, former city planner Sylvia Brueckert told the council Development Committee in August. That’s now reversed, so there were about 250 scooters and over 80 e-bikes last season.
Council member Ann Poe, who has indicated she’s not a fan of the scooters, expressed concerns about the safety and said she’d seen improper riding behavior. For instance, she reported seeing a woman riding around with a baby strapped to her body.
Poe had said she would have liked for council to be involved in the discussions of bringing more scooters to town, since the program mostly centered on bikes when the city launched it.
“Would that have changed the view of council in agreeing to this? I don’t know, because we never had that conversation,” Poe said.
Even so, Poe said Monday she wants to give VeoRide a chance to implement changes in the renewed contract for a year.
“They’ve made a good-faith effort in making those changes, so only time will tell,” Poe said. “If they adhere to the changes that are being made, then they will work out very well for our community and people use them for transportation.”
Micromobility options also are embedded in the Community Climate Action Plan the council adopted in September to move toward carbon neutrality and enhance community resiliency to human-caused global warming. The electric-assisted devices provide a more eco-friendly way to travel around downtown for recreational use or transportation to work.
At the August meeting, council member Ashley Vanorny recognized the need to work on safety concerns but encouraged her council colleagues to keep an open mind about the devices.
“I do see hordes of people who are really gravitating toward this, because it does provide something that they didn’t have before,” Vanorny said. “ … There are a lot of people who do not have another mode of transportation that this is the way they’re commuting around our city.”
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