Skip to the end for the story of how Idaho Statesman reporter Sven Berg almost died his first time on a scooter.
Less than a week after they appeared, electric scooters are everywhere in Boise.
People here rode them more than 13,000 miles — half the distance around the world — in the first four days after two companies, Lime and Bird, released several hundred electrically powered scooters on the city’s streets last Thursday, said Craig Croner, Boise’s administrative services manager. Some 3,600 individual riders used them, traveling an average of 1.1 mile per trip, he said.
Already, Lime and Bird are talking about increasing the number of scooters here, Croner said, and a third company, Spin, has submitted an application.
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The city has received calls from people irritated after close calls with the scooter riders. Some came from pedestrians on the Boise River Greenbelt, where, like human-powered and electric bicycles, e-scooters are allowed.
“I don’t think any motorized vehicles belong on the Greenbelt, electric or otherwise,” Northwest Boise resident Steve Anderson said in an email. “We already have pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, rollerbladers and various home-built but person-powered vehicles competing for space on the bike path.”
Anderson said the scooters would be OK if people didn’t ride them in packs big enough to block a whole lane of the Greenbelt.
“Also, could people maybe stop just leaving them in the middle of sidewalks, creating obstacles for those who actually need to get around on wheels due to disability?” Facebook user Leila Richardson commented on a city of Boise post about e-scooters.
Richardson’s comment reflects the same problems that scuttled Lime’s rollout in Meridian. So far, Croner said, the city hasn’t received many complaints like it.
There’s a positive side to all these scooters for a city whose government constantly works to reduce reliance on cars and trucks.
“People are using them, and that’s fewer trips on the road, fewer cars out there,” Croner said.
Boise City Councilwoman Elaine Clegg, who rode one of the scooters over the weekend, sees deeper implications. If bicycle and scooter sharing really takes off, she said, it could pressure policymakers to install new and better bike lanes all over the city.
How bike sharing works
Dockless, or stationless, bike- and scooter-sharing services started popping up about a year-and-a-half ago in cities like San Francisco and San Diego. They were popular in Europe before that.
Customers download apps for companies like Lime (formerly known as LimeBike), Bird Ofo, Razor and Spin to their smartphones. The app shows the location of available bikes or scooters. A customer scans a QR code on the bike to unlock it. When customers are done using the bikes, they park and lock them again.
It’s a handy service, especially for short rides. The scooters aren’t fast. Boise limits speeds to 15 mph. But they’re easy to use, and they’re cheap for short rides. Both Bird and Lime charge $1 per ride, plus a per-minute charge — 15 cents for Lime, 20 cents for Bird. A 23-minute, 4.2-mile trip Tuesday morning on a Bird scooter cost $5.60. A five-minute, 0.8-mile trip was $2.
Both companies advise riders to wear helmets. Stickers on the floorboards of Bird’s scooters say “helmet required,” but Lime and Bird don’t enforce that. Neither Boise nor Idaho requires helmets for scooter or bicycle riders. Bird gave away dozens of helmets at three public events last week for training new riders, Croner said.
The city is working with the companies to set up geofencing, which would prohibit customers from leaving the scooters in places like the Foothills, Kathryn Albertson Park — where no bikes are allowed — or Rhodes Skate Park, Croner said. The details aren’t finalized, he said, but eventually, scooters will slow down to a max speed of perhaps 5 mph when people ride through excluded areas.
Boise allows motorized scooters on sidewalks. Ideally, Clegg said, that wouldn’t be the case. But city leaders decided Boise needs more bike lanes before declaring sidewalks off limits, she said.
How the scooters came to Boise
Boise’s staff and City Council worked through the summer to set regulations for stationless bicycle- and scooter-sharing companies. The council passed an ordinance Aug. 21 that restricts the speed of both vehicle types and the total number of shared vehicles in Boise to 750.
Boise will evaluate Lime’s and Bird’s suggestions to increase that number over the winter, when use is expected to decrease, Croner said. Each company is licensed to operated 250 scooters.
After the ordinance passed, Croner and other staffers negotiated with Lime and Bird to lay out the terms of their operations in Boise. Meanwhile, the city of Meridian allowed Lime to launch a fleet of scooters there in late September, with only a memorandum of understanding to regulate the service. The MOU required Lime to remove scooters from public rights-of-way if they were inoperable or unsafe.
Shortly after the launch, Meridian officials began fielding complaints that abandoned scooters were blocking sidewalks and wheelchair ramps. The Ada County Highway District briefly impounded 13 of them at the district’s Garden City Headquarters. At Meridian’s request, Lime suspended service a few days later.
Croner said Boise applied lessons from Meridian’s experience in its negotiations to make sure the companies were doing their best to keep scooters from blocking sidewalks and other paths. Bird picks up its scooters every night, he said, and recharges their batteries before distributing them around the city in the morning, targeting areas with lots of pedestrians.
Lime recharges its scooters throughout the day. It picks up most at night, Croner said, but a few are still available in the wee hours. If that becomes a problem, Lime will remove them at night, he said.
Overall, Croner said, both companies are “doing an excellent job of responding as we call.”
“They’ve exceeded my expectations thus far,” he said.
Sven Berg: I almost died my first time on an e-scooter
I had to try one of these scooters I’d been hearing — and writing — about. How could I not? Journalists need to know their topics. Fun had nothing to do with it.
I started off by downloading the Bird app Tuesday morning. I picked Bird over Lime because I like their colors better and someone told me they have speedometers. I wanted to see how fast I could get one of these things going.
The app is pretty simple. You plug in an email address and turn on your phone’s location services. A map comes up showing the locations of available scooters in your area.
I picked a cluster of scooters just downhill from the Boise Depot. The roads there should be calm enough for a rookie. As I walked up to the scooters on the sidewalk, the app turned on my phone’s camera and told me to scan a code on a box next to the handlebars. Then it wanted my credit card info. After that, I had to scan my driver’s license to prove I’m 18. The city tells me it requires Bird to destroy that information in short order.
All of that took maybe two minutes. Because it was my first ride, the app took me through a quick tutorial. Don’t block public pathways. Park next to bike racks when you can. Obey the law. Wear a helmet. I didn’t.
And then, I was off. It was easier than I expected. You just push the scooter into motion and get on. The throttle is a button below the right handle. A bicycle-style handbrake is mounted on the left handlebar.
The top speed was practical, not exhilarating. The scooter, disappointingly, didn’t have a speedometer. The ride was quiet — the soft whirr of an electric motor. I rode around the Depot Bench neighborhood for a while and then turned down Americana Boulevard toward Ann Morrison Park.
I rode through the park and was leaving through the northeast exit when disaster almost struck. A sedan coming out of the River Edge apartments stopped before entering Royal Boulevard. I thought the driver saw me. I guess not. The car swung onto Royal and headed east as I proceeded in the same direction on the right side of the road. The car sped up, getting closer to me. I moved farther right, but the car kept getting closer. Within a second or two, I was running out of room between the car on my left and a row of parked cars on my right.
I hit the brakes and jumped off the scooter. The side of the floorboard banged into my left ankle. I was pretty angry. I might’ve cussed. I was relieved to see a Nevada plate on the back of the car.
You can see why bicyclists are so keen on good bike lanes. You feel the cars when they’re a couple feet away and there’s nothing to protect you from them.
Overall, though, my first ride was a pretty good experience. It was easy, cheap and kind of fun. I could see people using it for commutes of up to five miles if the weather’s nice enough.
The scooters don’t seem any more intrusive or dangerous than regular bicycles. If you’re on the Greenbelt or a sidewalk, you should follow the same rules bicyclists do. Mostly, that boils down to being courteous. Also, watch out for cars.