The electric scooter craze that was isolated last summer mostly to the streets of Salt Lake City is now spreading across the state just in time for warmer days.
Spin brought a few hundred of its bright orange scooters to sunny St. George last month. And on the other end of the state, the e-scooter giant Lime has plans to launch up to 300 scooters in Ogden on Friday.
The rise of e-scooters across the country has been marketed as a way to bridge the gap in a person’s last mile from mass transit and to reduce car trips to ease traffic, congestion and greenhouse emissions. In Ogden, city staff hope they will encourage more people to take public transportation.
“That’s good for the environment, that’s good for everybody — for traffic, for congestion," said Mark Johnson, Ogden’s chief administrative officer. "I think [a scooter] just adds another convenience that people can get around without getting in their car and actually driving around their car and adding congestion. And they look like they’re fun.”
Jonathan Hopkins, Lime’s northwest director of strategic development, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the company’s research has shown about a third of its users would have driven or taken a ride share if not for a scooter and 20% said their last trip was to connect to a public bus or train. He also noted that businesses in cities with the scooters have seen economic boosts as a result of increased accessibility.
With all those benefits in mind, city officials in Ogden have been negotiating in recent weeks with Lime and one of its competitors to bring their new technology to the city, Johnson said.
But the presence of the scooters in the city is only temporary for now, with a three-month trial period that will allow both the company and the city to see if there’s enough demand, work out any kinks and adjust the number of scooters as needed.
Johnson said that it’s likely any scooter issues would eventually have to go before the City Council. But for now, Lime and future scooter companies will operate under an agreement with the city that sets stipulations on liability and scooter speeds and ensures a portion of company proceeds come to the city, which is allowing use of public roadways and sidewalks.
“We want to get a couple months under our belt so we have some experience and then we’re making good choices,” Johnson said. “If we’re going to change an ordinance, we want to be able to know that we’re changing it correctly, and we want to make sure we’re doing something that will benefit the scooter program.”
Both Ogden and St. George have major universities. Providing transportation options for students was a major part of the decision to bring the scooters to the southern part of the state, according to Marc Mortensen, St. George’s support services director and chairman of its active transportation committee.
“The motivating factor was really for Dixie State University, as well as it being really nice weather and obviously a huge tourism base here during peak seasons, which are typically in the spring and in the fall,” he said. "So we thought it would be a good fit for St. George and turns out they’re highly popular.”
The city has been gradually increasing its scooter numbers up to a cap of 400 and saw almost 14,000 rides in the company’s first month of operation, Mortensen said, and most of that has been centered around Dixie’s campus. While the city initially worried the scooters would hurt its bikeshare program, he said that hasn’t been the case.
“It turns out that it did just the opposite,” he said, noting that Spin has a partnership with Zagster, the Live Well Intermountain Bike Share provider. “In fact, we’ve seen a boost.”
The launch of e-scooters outside Salt Lake City coincides with the passage of a bill in the state Legislature earlier this year that created a framework for cities to regulate the new technology and squared their use with Utah law.
Salt Lake City has yet to create a formal ordinance governing Lime and its competitor, Bird, in the city, as well as for similar businesses. In the meantime, those companies are currently regulated under a one-year operating agreement that requires companies to share aggregate data about how many people are riding and puts limits on where scooters can be left.
To take one of the scooters, a rider can simply download the company’s app to locate and unlock the most convenient one. They have no docking stations, meaning riders can simply drop the vehicle wherever their journey ends.
While scooter advocates have lauded their many benefits, the new technology has also come with some challenges. Sidewalk scootering has been a problem in Salt Lake City and has led to several injuries. Salt Lake City’s emergency rooms, in fact, reported a 160 percent spike in visits involving e-scooters last fall — a result Johnson said he hopes Ogden won’t also see.
“We want people to be safe,” he said. “But we also want [scooters] to be used and I think that’s the key. Come and try them out.”