Rental scooters are booming in SLC and across Utah. Is that good news?

Riders in the capital city logged almost a million miles last year, far outdistancing GREENBikes. They get people out of cars, but some drivers and pedestrians aren’t thrilled.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A man rides a Lime scooter up South Temple on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Rental scooters logged nearly a million miles in Salt Lake City in 2023.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

[Subscribe to our newsletter here.]

In barely five years, rental scooters have gone from novelty to ubiquity.

From their introduction in Salt Lake City back in 2018, rental scooters from Lime, Spin and Bird now carry riders in more than a dozen cities from Logan to St. George.

In Salt Lake City alone, rental scooters shuttled riders nearly a million miles last year. The number of trips shot up 47% over 2022.

“Electric scooters play an important role in our transportation system by helping get people out of cars and onto our streets,” said Blake Thomas, director of Salt Lake City’s Community and Neighborhoods. “Normalizing non-car transportation is important in helping clear our air, meet the city’s climate goals, and to activate our streets.”

Scooters now far outdistance public bike programs, even though the bikes have been around longer.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

GREENbike, a nonprofit that offers rental bikes in Salt Lake City and Ogden, saw a drop in ridership between 2021 and 2022, but it recovered some of that last year.

“Our numbers show a noticeable increase in the fall of 2023 [October],” said Stan Penfold, a former Salt Lake City Council member who is executive director of GREENbike. “That is because we added a significant number of e-bikes into our system in both Salt Lake City and Ogden. They are really popular.”

Complaints still come

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) GREENbikes in racks at 9th and 9th in Salt Lake City in 2019. The rental cycles saw a drop in ridership between 2021 and 2022 but recovered in 2023.

But scooters have come to dominate the “shared mobility” scene in Utah, and even scooter proponents know that not everyone is happy about that. Drivers complain of scooters darting in and out of traffic. Pedestrians dodge them on sidewalks, where they’re not supposed to be. And home and business owners grow weary of discarded scooters showing up on their property.

“We also acknowledge that there are challenges with this relatively new mode, such as inappropriate parking and sidewalk riding,” Thomas said. “The city is working on solutions to these larger issues in cooperation with the scooter companies, and we continue to make progress.”

It’s hard to find numbers on scooter accidents because so many of them go unreported.

Salt Lake City does have some data for scooter crashes that have an associated police report, which generally means another vehicle was involved. Between 2018 and 2022, there were 75 such accidents involving scooters, including rental and privately owned scooters. There was a fatality in 2018 on a private scooter, and three others had a suspected serious injury.

As for where the scooters can go, the rental companies typically make agreements with cities and colleges, and “geo-fencing” makes those agreements stick. Scooter companies use GPS and cellular technology to maintain constant contact with each one, monitoring payments and stopping the wheels when they reach the edge of their territory.

Not at BYU

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Scooters on Main Street in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024.

That’s evident in the scattering of Bird scooters in Provo at the edge of Brigham Young University’s campus, where rental scooters aren’t allowed.

BYU spokesperson Todd Hollingshead said there are no plans to allow rental scooters, citing the clutter of abandoned scooters and “the difficulty/expense of dealing with abandoned scooters owned by private companies and not individuals.”

Hollingshead said the campus is seeing more private scooters after the “rideables” policy was updated to allow them. “As part of that,” he said, “we do have signs and A-frames on campus to remind students of the rules that govern those rideables.”

Like Provo, Logan also has an agreement with Bird, one of the pioneers in rental scooters that has since filed for bankruptcy protection but continues to operate.

“We had a total of 6,723 rides taken in our pilot year,” said Russ Holley, senior planner for Logan.

In addition, like Provo’s scooters, they won’t work on the city’s college campus. Utah State University doesn’t allow rental scooters, so Logan’s scooters will work only on a couple of city streets that intersect the campus.

“We are currently updating our policies on walkway safety and micromobility, which needs to happen before we consider any agreements with third parties,” said USU spokesperson Amanda DeRito. “Students frequently use their own scooters on campus, and we encourage them to do so in a safe manner.”

The state’s flagship college campus, the University of Utah, went the other way, not just allowing rental scooters but also signing an agreement with Spin to provide them.

Discount rides

Lime has become the dominant player in Utah. It operates in the most cities, and the company says it provides 80% of the rental scooter rides in the state.

In Salt Lake City, Lime charges $1 to start and 47 cents per minute after that. The scooters travel at about 15 mph, so the typical milelong ride can be under $5, depending on stops.

The company also promotes its “Lime Access” program, which gives discounted rides to low-income riders.

“Over 600 Lime Access riders have taken nearly 10,000 trips, representing an estimated $40,000 in savings for people most in need,” Lime said in a news release last fall.

Lime says it serves Ogden, South Ogden, Hill Air Force Base, Clearfield, Syracuse, North Salt Lake, Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Sandy, South Jordan, Kearns, Orem and Lehi. But in some of those cities, there aren’t many scooters available on the app. Midvale and Millcreek are also part of expansion plans.

More cities coming

“We are currently working on an agreement with Lime and hope to have things in place by this summer,” said Rita Lund, communications director for Millcreek, who added that the city is also working on a bike-sharing program but nothing is in place yet.

Susan Wood, public affairs officer for Sandy, said her city has Lime scooters but no bike program.

“Rental bikes, e-bikes and scooters would certainly be consistent with the goals of Sandy’s long-term general plan, especially along the light rail routes,” Wood said. “We are open to conversations with providers of these options.”

Rental scooters haven’t reached Utah’s recreation spots — yet.

“Two or three years ago, we were approached by Bird about their scooter service,” said Moab spokesperson Lisa J. Church. “However, we haven’t heard from them in quite some time.”

And Summit County, which includes Park City, has banned rental scooters since 2019.

“Staff are continuing to monitor the scooter situation,” said Carl Miller, transportation planning director for Summit County. “Steve Dennis, an active transportation planner for the county, participates on a standing committee of a national organization that discusses shared micromobility issues and has a finger on the pulse of the situation.”

Miller said the county has rolled out a new Summit Bike Share program for residents. “If council leadership decides to take up the scooter conversation again, staff can review potential scooter options and scenarios. So far, we have not been directed to do so.”

Moab Times-Independent Editor Doug McMurdo contributed to this article.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.