116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — For now, Cedar Rapids residents and visitors can keep scooting around downtown and surrounding districts on rental electric-assisted devices.
The City Council on Tuesday extended its agreement for another three years with VeoRide, the Chicago vendor that owns and operates Cedar Rapids’ bike and scooter rental program. The contract extension included changes intended to promote safety and reduce the amount of clutter left when riders leave the devices strewn around town. This extension was on the council’s consent agenda, so it was approved without discussion.
Since 2019, the program each year brings hundreds of bikes, standup scooters and sit-down scooters to the city for people to unlock and ride using VeoRide’s mobile application for a fee, which varies depending on the device. The e-bikes and scooters are available in downtown and the surrounding districts including MedQuarter, NewBo, Czech Village and Kingston Village once the program returns, likely later this spring.
Citizens and council members alike are split on the devices — some love the whimsical way to take quick trips, while others are bothered by sometimes careless rider behavior.
“It was important for the council to listen to Cedar Rapidians about what worked and what didn’t, and I’m pleased with the recommendations that we’ve come up with,” Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell said.
Of the three types of devices in the VeoRide fleet, scooters are the most popular. The vendor brought about 700 devices to Cedar Rapids in 2021 — 500 standup scooters, 200 sit-down scooters and 40 e-bikes. According to the city, the program kept growing in popularity in 2021. There were 94,553 rides recorded in 2020, and last year that went up to 167,355. The sit-down scooters were new last year so there is no comparison, but e-bike rides fell nearly 55 percent to 2,420, while standup scooters saw usage increase about 14 percent to 101,245 rides.
Changes to the contract 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; a quiz at the beginning of each riding season to provide safety education; and geofencing to deter use on sidewalks and prevent use through busy pedestrian areas, especially during special events.
Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said there also is audio technology that can detect when people are riding on sidewalks and warn them to get off.
Pratt said the safety tutorial, plus a city communications campaign, will “be super helpful for our residents” and for visitors to the community who use the devices but are less familiar with the rules.
If anyone decides to circumvent the ID verification and allow an underage user to use VeoRide with their ID, Lt. Tony Robinson said that would be a user violation.
He said code changes recently approved by the council to regulate micromobility devices prohibit use on roadways where the speed limit is greater than 35 miles per hour and state riders must use a bicycle lane if available.
The Police Department receives complaints mostly in the core neighborhoods and downtown area, including the NewBo District, Robinson said.
“We're hopeful that introduction of the geofencing with the sidewalks will help take care of that to a certain degree and then probably require less enforcement on our behalf,” Robinson said.
Other changes aim to reduce clutter include reducing the time for devices being parked outside of marked areas from 72 to 48 hours and more designated parking areas
“I think the more handy those parking areas, the more likely people are going to be to use those,” Pratt said.
Management Analyst April Wing also said VeoRide last year started fining users for improperly parked devices. Users would eventually lose riding privileges for the season if they received too many warnings.
In 2021, city data shows VeoRide had given out close to 387 parking violations — nearly an even split of warnings and fines. Three collisions were reported.
Understanding the nuisance the scooters can be when parked improperly outside of the designated parking areas, O’Donnell said she would like to see VeoRide eventually pick up the devices within 24 hours of them staying idle.
In the meantime, she said the changes with this contract — particularly surrounding the stricter age verification requirements — will be key to improving the program.
“We have to do everything we can to ensure that these scooters are safe,” O’Donnell said.
The devices help people get around Cedar Rapids, promote equity by offering a low-cost transportation method and are better for the environment, O’Donnell said, and they add a sense of vibrancy to the city.
O’Donnell said she is open to evaluating the effectiveness of the program modifications in the future and making adjustments accordingly. Council member Ann Poe expressed similar sentiments.
“It’s important for us to continually assess if these scooters are meeting our intended goals, if they’re acting as an amenity, and if they’re supporting an equitable community and providing a safe service to people who need it,” O’Donnell said.
Pratt said VeoRide has always been open to making adjustments. The city will continue to work with the vendor to track issues throughout the year and determine whether to make any changes to the makeup of the fleet, she said.
The city is asking VeoRide to provide more of the “Cosmo” sit-down scooters and fewer standup ones in this year’s fleet, Wing said.
“They certainly want safety and continued usage of the vehicles, so it’s been a positive working relationship,” Pratt said.
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