MARSHALL — People in Marshall will get to try a new way of getting around this summer. An electric scooter rental company plans to bring a fleet of 50 to 75 scooters to town on a trial basis. Members of the Marshall City Council approved a memorandum of understanding between the city and Bird Scooters on Tuesday night.
“The city of Marshall was approached about a month ago by Bird Scooters, it’s a company based out of California,” said Marshall EDA Director Lauren Deutz. The scooters would be available for customers to rent, but the program would not have a cost to the city, she said.
“At this time, they’re just looking to launch a trial period in Marshall,” she said. Deutz said other Minnesota cities including Albert Lea and New Ulm were also considering similar trial agreements with Bird.
Mike Butler of Bird said the company was founded in 2017, and now operates in 150 cities around the world.
“We are a dockless electric vehicle company. Our goal is to make cities more livable, and bring this new environmentally friendly mode of transportation to members of the community,” Butler said.
Butler described how the scooter rental program would work. New riders age 18 and older would need to download a smartphone app, add payment information, and go through educational tutorials. Then, they could go up to a parked scooter, scan it with the app, and take it for a ride. Rental fees average around $5 a ride, he said.
“Then when you’re done, you park it back on the sidewalk, someone comes along and picks it up and does the exact same thing,” Butler said. Riders are required to take a photo of their scooters as proof they are parked properly after the ride.
Butler said the scooter technology can automatically slow down the scooters in certain areas, or shut down the scooters completely if they go somewhere the city doesn’t allow them.
As part of the planning for the scooter proposal, Deutz said she spoke with community organizations like United Community Action Partnership and the Marshall Downtown Business Association, as well as Southwest Minnesota State University. Deutz said SMSU was in favor of the proposal.
“They were in full support of the program. They thought it would be a benefit to their students,” she said. However, the MDBA was more apprehensive. “I think there would be some logistics that we need to figure out, just to make sure that we keep the program neat and tidy, and that it is functional for downtown businesses.”
Council members did have some questions about the scooters. John DeCramer asked if the scooters would be allowed on city trails. Deutz said it was her understanding the scooters would be allowed on trails and bike lanes, but not sidewalks.
“I don’t know that we want these scooters on Main Street with truck traffic and everything running through,” council member Russ Labat said.
Deutz and Butler said the city would be able decide on areas where scooters are and aren’t allowed. The trial period would also give both Bird and the city a chance to see if the scooter rentals worked out for the community.
Council member James Lozinski said he’s seen similar rental scooters in action in other cities, even on sidewalks. In those cases, riders and pedestrians are courteous to each other, he said.
“People seem to work well with these,” Lozinski said. “I think even downtown it would work just fine, no different from biking.”
Council members voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding with Bird for a trial scooter rental program.