by CESAR SALAZAR
Winonans could soon be rootin’, tootin’, and scootin’ around town in August, after the City Council approved an agreement with Bird Rides, Winona’s first license with an e-scooter company. Bird’s electric scooters will soon be rentable and roaming the streets, but what does that mean for Winonans?
The license agreement approved during the July 18 City Council meeting and existing city code established some rules and guidelines for the deployment and riding of the scooters within the city limits.
“Bird looks forward to bringing our eco-friendly e-scooters to Winona in August,” a Bird spokesperson said via email. “Winona will join more than a dozen other cities in Minnesota where Bird is operating. As the city establishes its new Natural Resources and Sustainability Plan, Winona was a natural fit for our shared e-scooter program.”
Last year, city officials approved an ordinance that requires approval from the city before any kind of micro-mobility ridesharing companies operate within the city.
City code requires that any e-scooters be limited to riding on the street and not on the sidewalks, nor in parks, that e-scooters are only available from March 1 through November 1, riders must have a driver’s license to ride the scooter, and riders under 18 must wear a helmet and need parental consent. In addition, the license agreement also requires Bird’s electric scooters to be parked on the boulevard and not block the sidewalk or accessibility features such as curb ramps, transit zones, and fire hydrants. The scooters are limited to a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour. The city also requires Bird to have a minimum of 25 but no more than 100 scooters in the city and have insurance in place for incidents.
“Birds will be available to anyone 18 and over and in various locations across the city based on demand,” the Bird said. “The scooters can be ridden anywhere within Winona city limits, with the exception of city parks and city bike paths. Bird uses hyper-accurate geofencing technology to prevent individuals from riding scooters in certain areas.”
According to another Bird spokesperson, Julianne Roller, the scooters will be maintained and set in place by a local logistics company. The city also reserves the right to fine Bird for any scooters that city staff have to relocate.
Users would need to download the Bird app to rent a scooter. The app would show the rules of riding the scooter in Winona. Users would also be required to park on a boulevard or other designated zone when finished.
City officials continue to have a few concerns about the deployment of the scooters in Winona.
City Council member Steve Young asked Roller about preventing use in city parks. City Council member Michelle Alexander further asked if the scooters could see usage on the roads within the park systems but not necessarily on the sidewalks or trails. Roller responded that Bird uses very precise geofencing technology and they would continue to work with the city to digitally restrict any areas that the city might not want riders to ride in.
Young also asked if the scooters were appropriate for Winona, as he said it isn’t primarily a tourist town. Roller replied that the scooters are a fun form of public transportation.
“We are committed to helping people replace car trips with eco-friendly and efficient trips powered by micro-mobility,” the Bird spokesperson said. “Winona seemed like a natural place for us to partner with the city and its residents to help minimize use of cars and to help encourage a mode shift to transportation alternatives that have lower carbon emissions.”
Mayor Scott Sherman asked, “Once it shuts down — let’s say it gets outside the geofence, it shuts down — is the drive motor still engaged so that [users] can freewheel it? Let’s say someone comes into a parking lot and wants to walk a couple hundred yards with it. Is it burdensome at that point or is it something that they can walk freely with?”
Roller replied, “It is burdensome for them to do so. It slows down to about one mile per hour so it’s basically useless. It’ll start beeping at them as well.”
The scooters are a first for the city. This will be the first year that any kind of micro-mobility ridesharing will be available for Winonans to use. “I’m excited about this,” Alexander said at the meeting. She continued, “I was a college student who couldn’t afford a car, and I can tell you this would’ve come in very handy!”