Transportation

Boulder Could Expand Shared Scooter Program Beyond Pilot Area

Boulder may expand its shared scooter program to more of the city.
Boulder may expand its shared scooter program to more of the city. Courtesy of Dave Kemp
In 2018, shared e-scooters began popping up in cities across the U.S., including Denver, creating chaos on the streets. People were zipping by pedestrians on these new devices and parking them in the middle of sidewalks, blocking the right-of-way. Denver ultimately had to work backwards, creating laws and signing contracts to reel in the scooter madness. But Boulder chose a different route.

"We avoided the catastrophe. That gave us time to develop some regulations," says Dave Kemp, a transportation senior planner with the City of Boulder. "We put together a pretty robust set of regulations."

While Boulder didn't ban scooter companies outright from getting permits to operate, the city's business-license department let shared scooter companies know that the city had laws making scooter riding illegal pretty much everywhere in the town.That definitely cut down on the action.

In 2020, Boulder City Council approved new regulations for where e-scooters could travel: residential streets, bike lanes on all other streets, and multi-use paths. Under those regulations, scooters still cannot be ridden on sidewalks. And that same year, the council approved setting up a scooter pilot program in east Boulder, for sections of the city east of 28th Street "near traditionally underserved neighborhoods," which contributes to a "strong equity component," Kemp notes.

"One half of the city has scooters and one half does not," he says, adding that while the University of Colorado Boulder was opposed to having e-scooters on the main campus during the pilot, it "was willing to try them on some of their other campuses that are in the city," such as the east campus and a residential site called Williams Village.

Boulder officials were particularly concerned about safety, and scooters were only allowed between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. During the year that the pilot program has been in force, there were nearly 120,000 e-scooter trips taken; so far, none have resulted in fatal crashes.

Now the city is exploring whether to allow shared e-scooters in more sections of town. Kemp and other officials sent a survey to Boulder residents, asking for their opinions on the pilot program, which began in August 2021 with over 200 shared Lime scooters.

"We're eager to continue operating in Boulder and are hopeful about expanding our service to more parts of the city, including adding to our fleet to help meet high demand, helping Boulder residents and visitors travel sustainably," says Cody Noblin, senior operations manager for Lime in Colorado.

"I think they're a really good way to piece together the little gaps in journeys that can't be done by public transit, either due to schedules or lack of routes going to the right destinations," says Jane Hummer, a 41-year-old clean-energy consultant who lives near 28th Street. Hummer, who doesn't own a car, uses the scooters to get back from the bus station late at night after returning from Denver.

"It's kind of a deserted area that can feel a little sketchy at night. Spending about $2 on one of those scooters to get back home is totally worth it," Hummer says. She also uses the scooter to return home after walking a mile and a half to drop her dog off at the kennel.

"But their usefulness is very limited by stopping them at 28th Street," she notes. "I only have so many places I need to go that are east of 28th. I'd like to see the program expanded all around town so I can get home from downtown or campus."

Ryan Bonick, a 29-year-old who works in the software field, says the scooters have given him more options for commuting in Boulder. "It’s pretty cheap," he says, "and I haven’t had issues finding a nearby scooter to use like I sometimes encounter with BCycle," the city's shared bike program.

With permission from the City of Boulder, Lime has already started offering limited service in test areas on the main CU Boulder campus.

"As e-scooters grow in popularity, it will be helpful to place more dedicated e-scooter parking stations around our service area — particularly on the CU Boulder campus — that can help keep the program organized and reduce the impact on campus and in neighborhoods. We're also hopeful about the potential to amend the overnight curfew, given the strong unmet demand we're seeing during hours when our service is not available to riders," Noblin says.

"I think they have a niche; they do," Kemp says. "I just hope the companies can maintain or create profitability and continue to work with the public agencies on optimizing the program and improving."

Any Boulder City Council action to expand the scooter program would likely come in January 2023.

"We’re really trying to home in on why are people taking e-scooters," Kemp concludes. "And if there wasn’t an e-scooter, then what mode would they have taken?"
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.