Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Moorhead may learn a new word in coming months – “microtransit.” A national firm that operates fleets of electric scooters introduced the Moorhead City Council to a new idea for short-distance personal travel. The council is expected take the request under consideration in coming weeks.
Bird, a company based in Santa Monica, California, bills itself “a reliable last-mile electric scooter rental service. “Our mission is to make cities more livable by reducing car usage, traffic, and congestion,” representative Kate Shoemaker told the council. She said the fledgling firm, which was founded in 2017, is rapidly expanding its fleets in cities ranging in size from 5,000 to 200,000. It currently operates some 130 fleets in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
These Birds are motorized adult-sized versions of the two-wheeled kick scooters that youngsters enjoy … not the larger motorbikes with a seat and handlebars favored in Europe. The company’s fleets of electric scooters don’t require docking; instead, a local fleet manager retrieves, maintains and charges them. Users download an app to their cellphones. When they want to use one of the little two-wheeled devices, they scan its QR code into their phones, which automatically calculate charges based on an unlocking fee plus a charge per minute of use. Shoemaker said an average trip costs about $5.
The scooters travel at up to 15 miles per hour on the roadways, typically in bike lanes, rather than on sidewalks. They are equipped with digital geosensing capability that limits their access within the permitted area enclosed by what Shoemaker termed an “invisible fence.” They shut down when taken into a no-ride zone, and cannot be operated without scanning their identification with the accompanying app.
Shoemaker proposed an initial fleet of 100 scooters based at high-traffic sites around the city. Since they do not require docking at an established location, they may be stationed in university areas, around restaurants and retail locations. She said the company indemnifies cities where it operates and adds them to its insurance policy. A full-time local fleet manager would be hired to manage the units.
Economic development advisor Derrick LaPoint pointed out that Bird is also in discussions with the city of Fargo with its own proposal. If only one of the cities moves forward with the plan, Bird scooters could not be operated outside its borders.
Setting up the fleet of Bird scooters in Moorhead would require a franchise ordinance allowing the company to use the public right of way for parking, city manager Dan Mahli told the council. The matter will be discussed at a future council meeting.