GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — You see them scooting around the streets of Grand Rapids — and now the city’s micromobility pilot program, which introduced electric scooters to city streets, is adding electric bikes.
Mobility company Lime has put 300 new scooters on the streets and added 150 bikes with an electric push to the mix.
The program gave South Dakotans Jim and Veronica Cunnigham, here for their semiannual vacation to Grand Rapids, a new way to get around town this time.
“This downtown is beautiful and the way to get around, man, these just make it excellent,” Jim Cunnigham said.
“It’s not hard at all. You get it like right away. You look all around without getting tired,” Veronica Cunnigham added.
It’s the kind of reaction Grand Rapids officials were hoping for when they launched the pilot program last fall with mobility company Spin.
“Thirty-five percent of all car trips in the U.S. are 2 miles long and about 30 minutes,” Mobile GR’s Assistant Director Justin Kimura said. “And those are significant contributors to traffic congestion as well as climate change. The data in our pilot today has shown that our average ride is just about 2 miles and just about 25 minutes. So it aligns with some of those stats.”
As of mid-May, there had been 141,252 scooters rentals since the pilot program began, traveling over 269,000 miles in the city.
This week, Lime joined the program.
“People are looking for ways to move in a socially distant, open air manner. And we can certainly provide and fill that need,” Crew Cypher, Lime’s Midwest general manager, said.
The program also checks the equity box for the city. The addition of Lime covers 12 more square miles of the city, including areas where residents deal with a lack of affordable transportation.
The bikes and scooter cost $1 to unlock and 25 cents per mile to ride. Lime offers 80% to 90% discounts to qualifying residents.
“We’re trying to tackle that really equity-focused approach and make sure we’re not just providing these cool things to the people who can afford them,” Kimura from the city said.
While city leaders are happy with the pilot program so far, there are growing pains. You don’t have to look far to see examples of scooter litter. The city has set up 175 scooter and now bike corals where riders can start and end their rides. Even though the meter continues to run, some riders ditch the scooters on sidewalks and along roadways. Lime says it is using education, technology and, as a last resort, penalties to curb scooter litter.
“Now, if we find certain users that abandon their device do not end the trip, we’re going to be assessing those on a one-off basis,” Cypher said.
There are also safety concerns. Consumer Reports magazine tracked electric scooter injuries in large cities with startup programs for a 2019 report. The magazine compiled an estimated 1,500 scooter-related crash injuries in about a year.
Cypher says 1 in 3 scooter crashes happen to first-time riders, so the company tries to educate them.
“Showing them how to operate it effectively in a very safe manner,” Cypher said.
Grand Rapids Fire Department records show between September 2020 and May of this year, firefighters responded to six accidents involving electric scooter riders. Two victims required a trip to the hospital, one of them with serious injuries.
Another victim, 33-year-old Elle Yared, died after she fell from a scooter last month. The medical examiner said Yared was highly intoxicated at the time of the fall.
Grand Rapids’ safety rules call for wearing a helmet, prohibit doubling up on the bikes and scooters and encourage riders to never operate under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
But is there a way to make sure people follow that beyond encouragement?
“We’ve just been focused on education and working with the company to possibly come up with incentives to do that,” said Kimura, adding that technology like sobriety tests on the scooter and bike apps could be available in the future. “But you know, if we want to take pride in our city. If we want to be courteous to our other residents, those safety rules help you to be a good resident.”
The pilot program continues to the end of the year. After that, the city will evaluate the companies that took part and determine the best fit for what’s likely to become a permanent program.