The dockless transportation boom that came to Salt Lake City last summer only continues to grow, with the addition this week of a third e-scooter company.
Spin, a San Francisco-based scooter company, came to St. George last month and now joins the companies Bird and Lime in Utah’s capital city. Under city regulations, each of the companies can deploy up to 500 scooters — meaning there could now be up to 1,500 on city streets if each company went for the maximum.
And while city officials speculate the scooters may soon reach saturation, it is possible more could come, since there are currently no limitations on the number of companies that can launch.
The city’s transportation options will increase also when GREENbike, the city’s nonprofit bike-share program, expands with docked e-bikes this fall.
Some have worried that the launch of scooters in the city would adversely impact the company, and the nonprofit’s founder and Director Ben Bolte estimated in a presentation to the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday that the new technology has taken “a 10% bite out of the GREENbike pie.”
Still, ahead of their approval later Tuesday night of nearly $80,000 in city funds to match grant funds expanding GREENbike, council members said they value the program and think it plays an important role in the city’s transportation landscape.
“It’s such a different program than the venture-capital funded dockless systems, which have their place in our city, too,” Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall said after Bolte’s presentation. “This is a really different system, really different purpose. And what stood out to me was the brand themes that the community generated. Three of those — quality and reliability, safety and a community focus — are examples of what set GREENBike apart from the other systems.”
In addition to its e-bikes, GREENbike also plans to expand throughout Salt Lake City and to offer 12-hour ride options starting this summer.
Jon Larsen, Salt Lake City transportation director, said he views GREENbike as the “stable core” of the city’s shared mobility options, even as for-profit companies help push the envelope for new offerings.
“I was teasing Ben that his motto for 2019 should be, ‘We’re still here,’” Larsen joked at the council meeting. “Because they still have a very strong following and really the biggest complaint I’ve heard from others about GREENbike is they’re not growing fast enough — and really that’s just a matter of resources.”
The electric scooter craze was isolated last summer mostly to the streets of Salt Lake City but is now spreading across the state, in both St. George and Ogden so far. That 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.
“We’re making slow but sure progress on [the formal ordinance], right now,” Larsen told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s budget season; it’s probably not going to be a good time to be pushing that through council. It’s probably going to be late summer or fall that we’re going to be looking at that.”
Larsen said one of the potential elements of the future ordinance would be to set up areas, which the companies would pay into, to create some downtown scooter parking areas in an effort to restrict where the devices are 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 — including 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 emission — the new technology has also come with some challenges.
Sidewalk scootering, for example, has been a problem in Salt Lake City and has led to several injuries. Salt Lake City’s emergency rooms reported a 160% spike in visits involving e-scooters last fall.