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E-scooters to hit Tucson streets in July

What are the pros? Cons? And how will the UA respond?

bird-scooters-on-the-sidewalk
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons | The Daily Wildcat Electric scooters are banned on the UA campus. Bird and other electric scooter sharing companies will not be featured on campus.

In October 2018, the University of Arizona banned the use of dockless electric scooters and similar devices on campus. Those caught riding an e-scooter on campus are subject to possible fines and impounding of the device.

“This policy is in place because we are concerned about the safety of e-scooters and their potential to limit accessibility on campus, especially for those with disabilities,” UA Parking and Transportation Services said in a press release at the time.

That was all before last week, when the City of Tucson voted 5-2 to approve a pilot program allowing up to 1,500 e-scooters to operate on downtown city streets beginning in July.

“I think we are doing the right thing in doing a pilot program,” Councilman Paul Durham said. “It offers a transportation choice, and I think it is wrong to say ‘no’ right off the bat without trying.”

          RELATED: UA implements electric scooter ban

According to Florence Dei Ochoa, marketing and public information manager for UA Parking and Transportation Services, there has also been a slight change in the UA’s official stance toward e-scooters. 

While she confirmed the devices are still not allowed on campus per se, the university is in communication with the city and potential companies regarding updating regulations.

“The UA has been working with the city and the companies to help enforce where the scooters are operated and parked,” Dei Ochoa said. “The UA will set up several convenient scooter lots where riders can park them when they come to campus or find them to leave the university.”

The university’s evolving outlook towards e-scooters is something anticipated by city council members on both sides of the issue.

The case against 

For Councilman Steve Kozachik, who represents the neighborhoods surrounding the UA and Tucson’s downtown core, it makes sense the university would wait to see what the city would do first. 

“The University is smart enough to be using the city as its beta tester,” he said. 

Kozachik opposes the introduction of e-scooters downtown and was one of two votes against the program. His reasons range from the dockless nature of the devices to questions of their supposed usefulness to average Tucson commuters.

“We have conflicts with the ridership. We have a challenge with enforcement from the riders themselves if they are breaking the law, or if they are in the street, you have the potential and likelihood of accidents,” he said. 

One of the cities Kozachik cited as having problems was Tempe. Since October of last year, Tempe has been dealing with the introduction of e-scooters to its streets. 

In that time, ASU’s Police Department has impounded more than 800 of the devices, according to an Arizona Republic report. That comes out to over $80,000 in impound fees, according to the same report. 

In January, Tempe also passed a license agreement for e-scooter companies, requiring a $7,888 application fee, a “right of way use fee” of $1.06 per vehicle per day and a $100 relocation fee if the devices were found outside the designated parking area.

Those fees, along with a stipulation companies acknowledge the “inherent” danger of the devices, were cited by two companies operating the devices in the city, Lime and Razor, as a major reason to cease operations within the city.

“In addition, by signing the form, operators must agree that scooters are ‘inherently hazardous,’ a standard usually reserved for activities such as those involving operating major public fireworks,” Lime said in a press release.

          RELATED: Drive, bike or ride: UA transportation guide

The joint headaches of code enforcement, scooters blocking walkways and getting the companies operating the scooters to adequately insure the devices are all enough to make Kozachik question the role the city is playing.

“These things end up in front of Epic Café, and someone calls, saying, ‘Hey these things are piling up’ — that’s on the city,” he said. “If we have to put this kind of severe indemnification language into something, is it really something we want to invite people to be doing on city streets?”

That’s before even considering the safety of introducing e-scooters into the ecosystem of downtown.

“You are mixing scooters in with the streetcar, with buses, with pedestrians, with bicycles, with automobiles in already heavily congested commercial corridors,” Kozachik said.

The case for

Durham, who voted to approve the pilot program, isn’t as pessimistic as Kozachik when it comes to e-scooters. Part of his optimism comes from how Tucson has gone about courting companies.

Unlike earlier cities like Santa Monica, where e-scooters companies just dropped off the devices without warning, Durham said Tucson’s pilot program will be restricted to 1,500 devices and will limit the amount of companies operating the devices to two.

“What we learned is … the scooter companies invaded with hundreds or thousands of scooters and had no rules whatsoever,” Durham said. “Two operators will be chosen based on the ranking of the applications.” 

Many of the problems cited by e-scooter detractors happened in cities where there was no prior regulation or relationship between the municipality and the e-scooter companies, Durham said.

Durham said he supported the e-scooter program because of the potential environmental and financial benefits the devices bring. 

“In Portland, they had a pilot program … they found that 34 percent of Portland residents took a scooter instead of taking a car. It was 48 percent with tourists,” Durham said. “If we can displace that number of car trips, it’s an option I wouldn’t want to say no to from the outset.”

Durham estimated potential revenue earnings of $135,000 or more if the program meets the city’s projections. The money would go towards covering the cost of enforcement of the new policy and the cost of staff time putting the pilot proposal together, Durham said. 

He also said he feels that some criticism leveled against the e-scooters, including Kozachik’s argument of added enforcement problems for city, are overstated.

          RELATED: As technology changes, so does transportation on UA's campus

Durham noted, under the language of the pilot program, the devices’ operating company would have two hours to send a representative to pick up and remove illegally parked e-scooters or face a fine (with the amount yet to be determined).

Additionally, Durham said the city will require e-scooter operators to limit where scooters can be parked by erecting digital geo-fences. These are areas where riders will be fined for leaving an e-scooter up to $100, according to Durham.

“The riders are not motivated to end the trip there, and the operator is required to move, on two-hour notice, any illegally parked scooter,” he said. “I don’t see [that] there is a serious risk of scooters being strewn all over the U of A campus.”

This is the first in a series of stories looking at the national issue of e-scooters and how they are changing and disrupting the way students and citizens use, view and interact with public transit.

Upcoming stories will focus on similar programs to the proposed City of Tucson pilot program, how e-scooters are addressing the “first-and-last-mile” commuter issue and just how environmentally (and financially) beneficial the devices are.


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