More than 350 of these scooters were introduced with some being stand-up “Astro” models and others being seated “Cosmo” versions. In the weeks since, it’s become a common occurrence to notice one of the scooters being driven in a bike lane, pulled off on a sidewalk, or, perhaps less conveniently, blocking a parking space or a driveway.
Such was the case for Carbondale resident Grace Grimmer, who found two Astro units parked in spots typically reserved for her apartment complex.
“My apartment complex has very limited parking for the amount of units and tenants, so plenty of people park along there,” Grimmer said. “Luckily, there were open spots for me [at the time] but I knew whoever needed that spot would be annoyed.”
Grimmer’s situation isn’t unique. The Facebook Group “WTF? Carbondale” includes several photos of scooters left in inconvenient or even potentially dangerous spots.
Such photos demonstrate the unfortunate reality that, along with the convenience these scooters provide, comes an associated risk. This is a reality that has made itself evident as rentable scooters, or micromobility services in industry jargon, have become a staple in American cities over the course of recent years. However, a lot of the potential pitfalls of scooter-sharing systems can be mitigated, provided that the proper precautions are taken by the vendor and the government.
A relevant example of this can be found in the city of Columbia, Missouri, which had its own experience with a similar electric scooter sharing system back in 2018-2019, albeit with a different company: Bird.
Founded as recently as late 2017, Bird was one of the progenitors of the electric scooter-sharing system, and after implementing its business model in dozens of American cities it became the fastest startup company in America to reach a valuation of $1 billion according to Quartza financial news conglomerate.
With that growth came growing pain, however. In Columbia, for example, Bird its scooters to the streets without alerting either city government officials or staff at the local University of Missouri (MU campus first. According to Mike Sokoff, the Transit and Parking Manager for Columbia, the immediate aftermath of Bird’s deployment was chaos.
“Well, we saw a lot of really dangerous behavior,” Sokoff said. “We would see people sitting on a case of beer going down the street, […] people trying to ride two of them at once. They were thrown into trees, they were thrown into ditches, they were left everywhere. And we didn’t really have a recourse. I mean, we could complain to the Bird company and the contacts we had but they didn’t have anyone local, who could actually manage it. That’s the way it was in 2018..”
As the Columbia Daily Tribune reported, MU ended up impounding nearly 150 of Bird’s scooters, at which point Bird had to pay a $1,400 fee to get them all back. By the fall semester of that year, Bird had to withdraw all of its units entirely, pending a long-term contract with the city and university setting up something more manageable for the citizens of Columbia.
Eventually, the city and university negotiated a contract with Bird which allowed the city to set the maximum number of scooters which could be timed at once, as well as setting a stipulation requiring users to not ride on sidewalks. Another key difference, according to Sokoff, was a change in the staff that Bird uses to monitor scooter placement and complaints.
“In 2018, they had contract employees that would pick these things up,” Sokoff said. “This time around, they actually have a Bird employee that is located in the city. […] If we have problems, it’s a matter of an email to a representative who contacts the individual who’s living in Colombia, and they take care of it. We didn’t really have that before, so now Bird is very responsive.”
Unlike the blunder bird made in Columbia back in 2018, Veo is starting its relationship with the City of Carbondale off on a better foot. According to Ben Thomas, a regional manager at Veo, the company had been working with Carbondale directly since the city put out a request for proposal (RFP) last year. Thomas now meets with representatives of the development management department in Carbondale once per week to discuss safety and potential improvements.
One of the representatives he meets with is Carbondale Development Management Senior Planner Molly Maxwell, who explained how the city had to make changes to code and regulations in order to accommodate the new scooters.
“We added several definitions to account for new modes of transportation, such as ‘micromobility vehicle’ and ‘electric standup scooter,'” Maxwell said. “We also needed to outline where micromobility vehicles are permitted to be ridden, which, simply stated, is exactly where bicycles can be ridden.”
Maxwell also explained the expectation placed upon Veo in the incident of an e-scooter being improperly placed or parked.
“The service agreement outlines deadlines for specific incidents,” Maxwell said. “For example, an e-scooter parked in such a way as to obstruct paths of travel and other accessibility features must be moved within 3 hours of notification of the obstruction.”
Thomas outlined how Veo’s team of contractors operating in Carbondale aims for an even narrower time-span.
“We currently have a team that operates 24/7,” Thomas said. “And so we’re constantly [checking] vehicles, whether that be to swap batteries or rebalance them. […] If anyone reports a vehicle that’s in a bad location, whether it is a private property or someone sees a vehicle that may have been sitting for a day or two. Someone reports that, we respond within two hours of that report ticket coming into our team.”
Whether Veo’s team of repairmen will be able to keep up with the inevitable influx of fall semester students remains to be seen, but Thomas expressed confidence in his team’s ability.
We’re ready to go. We’ve already seen a lot of good ridership, just from the city, people in Carbondale and the surrounding areas, so we’re excited for the students to get here.”
The easiest way to report an incident or misplaced scooter is through Veo’s hotline, which is 855-836-2256, or their support email [email protected]
Staff reporter Ethan Braun can be reached at [email protected].
To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.