CASPER, Wyo. — The electric scooter rental company “Bird” operates in over 200 cities and are hoping to add Casper to the list.
Bird Central and Northwest Region Territory Manager Michael Covato told the Casper City Council on Tuesday that Bird is already operational in Evanston and are planning to launch in Rock Springs within the “next week or so.”
Bird is looking to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the City of Casper to allow them to operate in the Oil City. Covato explained to the council that the service works similar to bike share systems.
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People download a mobile app which includes a map that helps them find an available scooter parked somewhere in town. The app allows them to scan and unlock the scooter, ride it wherever they like, then park the scooter at the end of the ride.
Covato added that Bird would add Casper to their general liability policy to help ensure the city is protected against liability for any accidents. He said there are not a large number of liability issues with Bird services in other cities.
Council member Bruce Knell said he has used Bird scooters in other cities: “I appreciate your service. I have it on my phone.” Knell said he had some concerns about people riding the scooters on streets downtown because he thinks the downtown streets are narrow.
Casper has an ordinance which doesn’t allow skateboards on downtown sidewalks and the city council may consider modifying that ordinance to accommodate the new scooter sharing service.
Knell also asked whether a person can be cited for driving under the influence on a scooter: “I can guarantee you people coming out of them bars are going to jump on them. I’ve seen people do it.”
Casper Police Captain Steve Schultz said that when on the streets, scooters would have to be operated just like any other vehicle. People can get a DUI on a bicycle and could potentially get one from operating a scooter while intoxicated as well.
City Attorney John Henley said that he had spoken with Covato and learned that Bird can use “geo-gating” to restrict the use of scooters in some areas. Covato added that the speed limit of the scooters is automatically capped at 15 mph, though this can potentially be lowered in some geo-fenced areas.
Henley added that Bird doesn’t allow people under 18 to rent a scooter. As to concerns about the city potentially having some liability for allowing the business to operate in Casper, Henley noted that the city could potentially face lawsuits for allowing car rental businesses to operate in Casper, but “we don’t worry about them indemnifying us.”
Covato said that Bird shuts down the service from midnight to 4 am. He added that Bird would have a dedicated individual who could work with Casper city staff to tweak anything in terms of the geo-fencing or speed limits.
He added that all the scooters have head lights, tail lights and running lights. As for parking, he said the scooters all have kickstands. Users are also required to submit a photo when they park the scooter to show it has been properly parked. Users are trained on this when they first sign up for the service.
Council member Kyle Gamroth asked about how the scooters are charged. Covato said that Bird relies on “fleet managers” contracted to check on scooters and charge them every couple of hours throughout the day.
Gamroth also asked about theft. Covato said that the scooters are all equipped with GPS and also have sensors triggered if they go above 15 mph, which tends to indicate a theft is occurring.
He said the rate of theft is very low across the country.
Gamroth asked whether it is common for cities to set up designated parking areas. Covato said that happens in some bigger metropolitan areas, but in most cases, communities allow people to park the scooters on any sidewalk.
He said Bird could created preferred parking zones for Casper if that is the direction the city wants to take: “That is something we can work through together.”
Knell said such preferred parking zones would defeat the point of the service which he said is that the scooters are available “everywhere.” He added that he is in favor of allowing Bird to operate in Casper: “I think we’d see people buzzing all over the place on them.”
The council agreed they would like to move forward on an agreement with Bird.
City Manager Carter Napier said the next step would be to finalize an MOU for council’s consideration. Mayor Steve Freel asked that the council also be given the chance to look at downtown ordinances that might need to be changed to better facilitate the service.
Knell said he imagines “time is of the essence” since scooter rides might not be too comfortable when Casper gets cold.