Last month, Cedar Rapids became the first city in Iowa to introduce electric scooters, as part of its bike-share program. People who have yet to try the e-scooters — or the electric-assist bikes introduced earlier this year — can do so for free on Thursday, Oct. 3, for the city’s “Move More Week.”
Thirty scooters are available in various parts of the city, such as NewBo, Czech Village, Coe College and Mount Mercy University. The success of the bike-share program, which launched in May, led to the “inevitable question” of whether or not e-scooters should be added, said Bill Micheel, the city’s assistant community development director.
“We decided that the way to determine if this is a good fit [for Cedar Rapids] is just try it,” Micheel said. “We know there are concerns. We also know there’s excitement. Unless we give it an honest shot, we’re not going to know. So far, it’s been going pretty well.”
Electric scooters have been growing in popularity across the country. In 2018, people took 38.5 million trips on e-scooters, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). By the end of 2018, more than 85,000 e-scooters were available in over 100 cities across the country.
Iowa City first announced it was starting a bike-share program in 2015, but has not yet launched the program. The city has announced that the bike-share program will finally become a reality this fall, although a specific date has not yet been set. Earlier this month, the Iowa City Council approved a contract with South Carolina-based Gotcha Mobility to run the bike-share.
Adding e-scooters is a possibility, Iowa City Transportation Director Darian Nagle-Gamm told Little Village in July. “At this point I can’t tell you when e-scooters might be introduced, but I can say that the City is considering them and sees their potential as a quick, easy and affordable mobility option,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Transportation Committee of the Iowa House of Representatives considered legislation that would have regulated where and how e-scooters can operate, but the bill never came up for a vote.
To rent a bike or scooter in Cedar Rapids, users download the free VeoRide app. After creating an account, a user scans the QR code and starts the ride.
VeoRide is a Chicago-based micromobility sharing company in charge of operating and managing Cedar Rapids’ bike and scooter share program, which operates at no cost to the city. VeoRide collects its revenue from rider fees and is responsible for repairing or replacing the vehicles.
Normally, the bikes and scooters cost $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute to use. To make the program more accessible, the $1 unlock fee is waived for individuals using local, state or federal assistance programs through VeoRide Access.
From when the scooters launched on Aug. 30 to Sept. 15, Micheel said there has been an average of 200 rides per day. Sunday of Labor Day weekend was the biggest day for the bike and scooter share system — there were more than 700 rides total, and almost 500 of them were scooter rides.
On average, 120 scooter and bike rides happened daily from May 13 to Sept. 15, with around 51 new users downloading the VeoRide app per day, Micheel said.
“We are excited about these numbers, which demonstrate the community’s interest in the program,” Micheel said.
While the feedback for the pilot program has overall been positive, the city is aware of the concerns surrounding e-scooters in other cities, Micheel said.
One of the concerns that came up was the issue of “scooter litter,” Micheel said. Other cities have had problems with scooters being left on the sidewalks and blocking paths for pedestrians.
So far, this hasn’t been a major issue in Cedar Rapids, Micheel said. What Micheel believes helped were the 90 bike racks placed around the city when bike-share program was introduced. Scooters can be parked in these areas, and there has also been additional scooter parking added (white squares painted on the sidewalk with a scooter symbol).
The environmental friendliness of e-scooters has recently been called into question. An August 2019 study by researchers at North Carolina State University found making, charging and transporting the scooters result in more emissions than people might think.
The study found e-scooters are less eco-friendly than electric mopeds, e-bikes, walking and certain public transportation. However, they are still more green than cars.
There’s also been concern surrounding the safety of e-scooters. Doctors in various cities, including Austin, Nashville and Atlanta, reported an increase in scooter-related injuries after they were introduced. Nashville Mayor David Briley called for a ban of e-scooters after a man was killed.
The Iowa Association for Justice believes Cedar Rapids and other cities with e-scooters need to have an insurance plan to help with the cost of injuries — not just for riders but also for pedestrians.
The risk of injury between scooter riders and pedestrians is why riders are required to use bike lanes and not the sidewalks, Micheel said.
“The educational component to this, I think, has been really important,” Micheel said. “We made videos showing people how to use the bike lanes and why it’s important to stay off the sidewalk.”
“People have already been contacting us and providing us with positive feedback … and also the issues they’re finding, which we appreciate.”
A full list of Move More Week events can be found on the City of Cedar Rapids website.