Government

Electric scooters join Cedar Rapids bike share

City tests venture that's been popular but problematic

The latest addition to a bike share program begun this summer in Cedar Rapids, electric scooters like these can be rented by the public starting Friday. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)
The latest addition to a bike share program begun this summer in Cedar Rapids, electric scooters like these can be rented by the public starting Friday. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Electric-powered scooters are scheduled to be rolled out Friday in downtown Cedar Rapids, the latest addition to a bike share program started this summer.

The fleet includes 30 scooters as part of a pilot project through the fall to test whether they are a good fit for Cedar Rapids.

“It’s official, these things are fun,” said Bill Micheel, assistant community development director during a test ride Thursday afternoon on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. “As well as the bike share has been received, I am hopeful this will be successful and is a nice addition to the program.”

Cedar Rapids would become one of the first, if not the first, city in Iowa with electric scooters as part of a bike share program. They already have become a phenomenon in a number of cities around the country.

The 45-pound scooters will be stationed near bike racks at Coe College and Mount Mercy University campuses, and in the downtown neighborhoods including NewBo and Czech Village. White outlined boxes painted on the sidewalk next to bike share racks are intended to serve as a corral for the scooters.

The shared scooters can be checked out through the VeoRide app downloaded on smartphones. Once an account has been created, the user would scan a QR code found near the handlebars and approve payment through the app to unlock the scooter.

The scooter beeps and the headlight, taillight and speedometer illuminate indicating the rental is active. With one foot on the scooter platform, the rider kicks off such that the scooter starts rolling, and then engages a throttle mounted on the handlebars to trigger the electric assist, which can reach up to 12 mph.

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The scooters are allowed in bike lanes, travel lanes and recreation trails but are restricted from sidewalks in the downtown area.

It costs $1 to unlock the scooter and 15 cents a minute thereafter — same as for the rental bikes. Each has a 28-mile range for battery life.

The fare ends through a button on the app, at which point the device beeps and locks up. The scooter must be in the Cedar Rapids city limits to end the ride.

Officials are encouraging scooters be returned to bike racks or the scooter boxes, but the scooters can be left just about anywhere. That will be a big part of the test about whether the scooters can work in Cedar Rapids.

While the devices have been widely popular in many communities, they’ve also brought pedestrian-scooter conflicts and litter as people leave them in the middle of sidewalks and other public spaces.

“We are aware of issues in other communities,” Micheel said. “One advantage we have in Cedar Rapids is great on-street bike facilities, and we work with one vendor with whom we are in regular communication.”

Cedar Rapids has an exclusive agreement with Chicago-based VeoRide to operate and maintain the bike and scooter share. In some communities, multiple vendors compete for customers, which has contributed to problems.

VeoRide sustains the business through fares and at no cost to the city.

Rob Muenchrath, fleet coordinator for VeoRide, who maintains the Cedar Rapids fleet of bikes and scooters, urged users to enjoy the scooters but be respectful of pedestrians.

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“Just be considerate,” he said. “Don’t leave it in the middle of the sidewalk and watch out for people.”

Jesse Thoeming, executive director of the Downtown District, said he expects the scooters to be a hit, much the same as the bikes.

“The big thing is being able to get across the district quickly,” Thoeming said. “It makes it so much easier whether you are going to a meeting or lunch. I’ve personally been to a handful of cities that have had them. They are extremely popular and easy to use. They are efficient and a fun way of transportation.”

Since the bike share launched in May, there have been 4,000 app users and a total of 8,700 rides with an average of 100 rides per day. It includes 150 electric-assist bikes.

Micheel said the bike share and scooters will continue likely through the end of October or later depending on the weather, and will be evaluated over the winter. If all goes well, Micheel said the city ad vendor could discuss expansion to include more bikes and scooters.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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