The company that provided these electric scooters to the Nautical Mile in 2020, Gotcha, is no longer in business. City Council tabled a decision on whether to contract with a new company, Bird Rides, to provide scooters across the city.
File photo by Kristyne E. Demske
ST. CLAIR SHORES — Residents and visitors to the Nautical Mile in the summer of 2020 couldn’t miss the teal electric scooters parked along the sidewalk, waiting for riders to take them for a spin.
Those scooters were provided by a company called Gotcha through an agreement reached by the Tax-Increment Finance Authority seeking to bring short-term rental bicycles to the area. The scooters were ultimately delivered free of cost to the city instead, however, because Gotcha had supply-chain issues in 2019 and early 2020.
The Gotcha company, however, no longer exists and was absorbed by a company named Bolt Mobility Company, according to St. Clair Shores Assistant City Manager William Gambill. While that company has not provided the city any proposal to operate within its limits, St. Clair Shores was approached by several other scooter companies interested in operating within the city limits, including Bird Rides, of California.
“Bird is an established company that offered to provide this (service) at no cost to the city,” he said at the March 15 City Council meeting.
Michael Covato, a representative of the company, told City Council it is one of the largest shared scooter companies around, with 54% of the market share in the country. Bird proposed a fleet of 100 scooters in the city that would be charged and rebalanced by a local area manager. The scooters have a top speed of 15 mph, but new riders would be capped at 6 mph. Unlike Gotcha, however, Bird scooters would be located throughout the city in staging locations that could vary based upon rider usage. Parking for the scooters would not be limited to just marked-off squares along the Nautical Mile, but could be left anywhere throughout the city, to be rebalanced by the local area manager.
“Every single rider is required to take a photo at the end of the ride to ensure that it is not parked in the right of way,” Covato explained, adding that the rider would continue to be charged for the ride if the scooter was not parked correctly. The company has the ability for geofencing, a digital boundary that will slow the scooter and tell the rider to turn around if they try to take the scooter out of the city.
He said the scooters are meant to be parked in the area between the edge of the sidewalk and the street so they don’t block the sidewalk for pedestrians.
Councilwoman Candice Rusie expressed concern about seeing similar scooters strewn all across the sidewalk in other communities, but Covato said that with the small amount of scooters, the local area manager would be able to go out and rebalance them to avoid that problem.
“We are capable of being able to predict where the scooters will deliver the most impact to the community,” Covato said, adding that Bird has “quite a bit of capacity to control where people can and cannot go.”
City Council members expressed concern with the fact that the company urges its users to ride in the street like a bicyclist and the fact that the scooters would not be contained just to the Nautical Mile.
Rusie also expressed concern about the liability of having scooters in the street, and Councilman Chris Vitale said he would have liked to see a video of the actual scooter with its lights on at night to know how visible they would be after dark.
Covato said the scooters would not be rideable between midnight and 4 a.m. and do come equipped with a headlamp and tail lights. The scooters are a seasonal operation, he said, and would “hibernate,” or be put away during the winter months, to be redeployed in the spring.
The company would have to provide proof of liability insurance of $1 million for each individual and $2 million aggregate for the operation of the scooters, and auto insurance coverage of $1 million for each occurrence and $1 million aggregate, along with a $5 million umbrella policy, to operate in the city.
City Council voted to table a decision on the contract until April, however, stating that there were more questions that needed to be answered about the contract before they could agree to let Bird Rides operate in the city.
“I love this stuff,” said Councilman Dave Rubello, “I just don’t know if this setup is going to be right for our city of St. Clair Shores.”
Councilman John Caron said he was surprised at how much the scooters were used last year and that he heard no complaints about them.
“Everything I’ve heard from this company tonight … I’ve heard vast improvements over what we had,” he said. “This is going to be one of those new amenities that more and more cities are going to end up going to.”