Electric scooters roll onto Santa Rosa streets

One hundred rentable electric scooters just hit the streets of Santa Rosa.

After an application process earlier this year, the Santa Rosa City Council selected the e-bike and e-scooter rental company Bird for a yearlong pilot program, which began July 1.

“I love the idea of ​​nonautomotive, eco-friendly modes of transportation,” said Santa Rosa resident Justin Borton, a volunteer with Bikeable Santa Rosa, a group organizing for more bike lane connectivity in the city.

Interested riders can find the first 100 electric Bird Three scooters in the downtown, Railroad Square, Santa Rosa Junior College, Roseland and Montgomery Village areas. Bird plans to release 100 more scooters July 22.

The program is part of the city’s plan to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

“The Council was interested in this program as a means of creating another mobility option and another way to get around our city without a car,” said Bjorn Griepenburg, the city’s active transportation planner.

While many residents are eager to take the new scooters for a spin, others are more skeptical. A common concern is that riders will drop scooters in the middle of sidewalks, clogging streets and causing hazards for pedestrians and others, especially those with certain disabilities.

“We encourage the public, if they see any scooters that are not parked or locked properly, to reach out to Bird directly. Their contact information is listed on every scooter,” Griepenburg said.

Scooter-rental companies, including Bird and San Francisco-based Lime, have quickly gained ground in large US cities. The companies began to grow rapidly in the fall of 2017, according to a paper from New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

The scooters have been hailed as a solution to the “first and last mile problem” of public transportation — the idea that more people would use trains like SMART, or city buses, if they had a convenient way to get from stations to their final destinations .

“I’m stressing because I need to get around,” said Santa Rosa resident Desire Roberts.

Her car broke down last fall and she hasn’t been able to pay to fix it. She said she’s been spending about $300 per month on rides to and from work, and she lives just 10 minutes away by car. She does have access to public transportation, but she said the bus schedule doesn’t always align with her work schedule.

“I’m willing to deal with a scooter or electric bike, or something,” Roberts said. “I’ll definitely look up the locations and go try them out.”

As more people use the scooters, space could become an issue — on streets with little to no bike lane, where will scooter riders go?

“They are expected to be ridden in the roads,” Griepenburg said. “The exception to that is that they cannot be ridden on a road with a speed limit over 25 mph, unless that road has a bike lane.” He also urges riders to ride “predictably” and with traffic.

“It’s obviously a great form of transportation,” said Borton, the Bikeable Santa Rosa volunteer. “But if we want adoption, if we want to get more people out of cars and more people using green forms of nonautomotive transportation, then we have to create protected bike lanes, or protected scooter lanes. And once we have those, then everyone’s gonna be riding them. It will be so fantastic and our city will be such an awesome place to live.”

The city says equity is a central part of the pilot programme. Many veterans, students, teachers, seniors, and low-income individuals can apply for a 50% discount on rides. Android and iOS users can download the Bird app to rent scooters from their phones, and those without a smartphone can use the text-to-ride feature. Android users are also able to load cash onto their accounts, by visiting one of 31 participating retailers in Santa Rosa.

Bird is also partnering with Scootaround to provide a seated scooter option for individuals with limited mobility.

You can reach Staff Writer Elena Neale-Sacks at elena.neale-sacks@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @elenaneale17.

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