The city of Aspen, trying to stay ahead of municipal travel trends and gauge residents’ levels of acceptance, is considering a pilot program of electric scooters — hybrid machines whose popularity has exploded across the United States and the world, and not without controversy.
City officials emphasized that no decision has been made to contract with a vendor of the kick-started scooters, and that, if they do take to the streets of Aspen, their presence may be short-lived if there are conflicts with pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. But city staff nonetheless are drafting an ordinance to regulate the two-wheeled devices that are already being used here, said Ashley Perl, the city’s climate action manager.
The consideration of the app-controlled scooters is part of Shift, the city’s moniker for a multimillion-dollar mobility lab effort to get more vehicles off the road, using alternative modes of transportation, to reduce congestion and pollution. The scooters could play an integral part in what she called the “first-mile, last-mile” issue: While Perl praised the local bus system as top-notch, many people still use vehicles after getting off the bus in Aspen to get to their end destination, she said.
“Aspen being an innovative town, we don’t want to just say no without trying them first,” Perl said. “The whole purpose of Shift is to try different mobility options.”
The ordinance, which may go before Aspen City Council in early 2019, will restrict e-scooter use to the same rules as bicycles: They won’t be allowed on sidewalks or the pedestrian malls (the vehicles, depending on the model, can travel at speeds of roughly 10 to 15 mph). And any potential vendor will need a business license, Perl said.
She and Mayor Steve Skadron stressed that no city money would be invested in potential e-scooters — versus public money that went into the We-Cycle bike-rental program — and that the coming ordinance will mandate that the scooters be parked in designated spots. In cities like Paris, Barcelona and San Francisco, the dockless scooters, which are paid for with a credit card on the app, are simply abandoned wherever the previous user disembarked and stand waiting for the next user. That won’t happen in Aspen, Perl said.
The main firms behind electric scooters, Bird, Lime and Spin, have already taken steps to discourage users from simply leaving them on the ground after short treks, she said. That includes making scooter-ists take a photo of the vehicles in a designated parking spot or risk being assessed a minute-by-minute charge to their credit cards.
“There are a lot of incentives to parking them correctly,” Perl said.
Those companies have yet to set their sights on Aspen. But the city has no rules on e-scooters’ parking, use and maintenance. And they are “coming to cities across the world, and where they’re parked and used, I think the city has just as many fears as other people,” she said.
As such, city staff has studied the scooters’ use and impact in over 50 cities.
Skadron and Perl said they want the ordinance in place because it will prevent scooter companies from simply spreading the machines across Aspen overnight — as has happened in other cities — for people to use. The new regulation, if adopted, would also allow the city to shut down a scooter business that violates the ordinance.
“It’s possible they might come, but it’s not certain,” Skadron said. “If they do come, it would only be experimental. [The companies] won’t be dumping them here, and the city is not buying them.”
He said he has ridden an electric scooter and enjoyed its convenience, but prefers cycling.
As part of the Shift effort, scooters — the popularity of which is underscored by a recent Detroit Free Press article on what to expect out of using them in the snow — are one of several alternative transit options the city is considering, Perl said.
The municipality last year issued a request for proposals to any mobility firm to participate in Shift, and it received dozens of responses. Perl declined comment on specifics of what these companies have in mind for the future of Aspen’s mobility.
Shift’s test period, scooters or not, is set for June 8 to Sept. 2, 2019.
“Change is coming, and Aspen won’t close its doors to innovation,” Perl said. “We should be open to having that conversation if the city wants it.”
And if not?
“If people hate them, we’ll get rid of them,” Skadron said.