Mixed reaction by Biddeford council on electric scooter rental proposal Leave a comment

Bird, a company that provides electric scooters for rental, has asked Biddeford to consider allowing them here; a proposal that has been met with skepticism by some city councilors and with interest by others. The scooters are typically parked for pick up or drop off on the sidewalk in what is called “the furniture zone,” as shown here in this unnamed city. Biddeford’s sidewalks are much narrower, which could cause problems, city officials have said. Courtesy Photo/City of Biddeford

BIDDEFORD — A company that rents electric scooters by the ride to people who need to get around the city had hoped to be able to open in Biddeford this summer. But the company is now looking to refine their proposal after some city councilors expressed concern — and one an outright no — at a recent meeting.

Bird, a company that operates in more than 300 cities large and small in 25 countries, is looking to come to Biddeford with their app-based model that allows people to pay a fee, pick up an electric scooter in the city, and then leave it for the next rider when they arrive at their destination. If a rider does not happen along, a fleet manager would retrieve the scooter and place it in a location where it is more likely to be used.

The scooters use travel lanes; top speed is 15 m.p.h.

Bird calls the use of the scooters micromoibility, and according to their literature, using them results in fewer car trips.

“Every Bird on the road results in about 1,500 pounds of avoided carbon emissions each year,” according to the company.

“I like the concept,” said Mayor Alan Casavant as he introduced the discussion. “It increases mobility of people downtown, without automobiles being part of the equation.”

City staff conducted research after being approached by Bird representative Jeremy Lynch.

“It’s an intriguing concept,” designed to reduce vehicular traffic, said Biddeford’s Chief Operating Officer Brian Phinney. He noted the app-based service is customizable in that certain areas could be excluded from travel.

“If we said ‘no driving in Clifford Park,’” for example, the app would inform the driver it was a restricted area and the scooters become inoperable, he noted.

Phinney said parking the scooters is a concern, because the sidewalks in Biddeford are narrower than in other cities where the scooters are present. If a vacant parking space on a city street was used, it could cause problems because “parking is in relatively short supply anyway,” Phinney said.

This sidewalk on Main Street in Biddeford, which shows a six foot distance from the building to the tree box, is one of the wider sidewalks in the city. City staff have said the sidewalks  are narrow as compared to other cities where Bird provides electric scooters for rent. The scooters are parked on city sidewalks in those commumities; people use a phone app to rent them and then leave them at their destination. Courtesy Photo/City of Biddeford

The city’s staff took a neutral position on the proposal but did not advise moving forward without a solution to the parking issue.

Councilor Amy Clearwater was clear about her feelings on the matter.

“This is a real quick and vehement no for me,” Clearwater said. “… I’ve been in a lot of communities that have these, and they’re just a mess. They’re everywhere on the sidewalk blocking the path, left in places they shouldn’t be, hurled into San Francisco Bay … literally.”

Clearwater said Biddeford sidewalks are too narrow and the proposal from Bird “is just not quite where it needs to be.”

“I don’t want our staff using another five minutes to talk about this, ” she said, citing housing and other concerns. “We have so many fish to fry. It’s a hard no.”

Lynch, of Bird, said scooter parking corrals could be staged in certain areas, and noted the app can be customized. He said fleet managers earn a percentage of the revenue from scooter rides so if one is idle for a certain period, the manager is notified and moves it elsewhere.

Councilor Martin Grohman, who has used the scooters in Washington, D.C., said he likes the idea.

“They work really well,” said Grohman. He said he thought students would use them, and that the electric scooters would be useful for people to get to and from the city’s new parking garage.

“If we did this, we’d be the first city in Maine and I think that’s pretty cool,” said Grohman.

Clearwater said she expected students would use them as well, without a helmet. And, she said traffic is already “a nightmare. ”

“I can’t believe we’d fiddle while Rome burns to the extent we would use staff time on this right now,” she said in the Committee of the Whole, discussion-only session.

“It’s an intriguing, cool idea,” said Councilor William Emhiser. But he said operating a scooter down Main Street would be difficult, as would navigating through the mill district. He also spoke of  sidewalk issues for scooter parking.

“Although it’s a great concept, I would be a ‘no’ as well,” said Emhiser.

Councilor Scott Whiting said the 15-mph scooter speed “would be fine,” downtown, but not in areas of the city where the speed limit is 35 m.p.h.

Councilor Bob Mills expressed safety concerns and said there are too many distracted drivers. He noted his son was operating a skateboard and was hit by a driver “who was looking the other way,” some years ago.

Perhaps the closest location for Bird scooters to Maine is in Nashua, New Hampshire; they arrived there in 2021.

Lynch said he believed it would take more time to work out locations within the city for the scooters.

“Maybe we can look forward to spring,” said Lynch. “I don’t want to rush this.”

Casavant expressed disappointment “that we shut things off too quickly.”

“I actually envision this can work,” said Casavant, adding he believes it is important to increase people’s mobility. “My thinking is that it would be a great experiment at the train station, this (City Hall)  lot,” and others. “I’m not really concerned about safety so much,” he said, “and I think people will get used to it.”

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