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Scooter regulations stress access, affordability

Department of Public Works regulates number, distribution of Bird, Lime electric scooters

Electric scooters made their return to Providence earlier this month with rideshare companies Bird and Lime.

Last July, Bird’s surprise overnight debut encountered pushback after the scooters interrupted traffic flow and obstructed sidewalks. Bird subsequently discontinued the service to be compliant with Department of Public Works policy while the department began work on new regulations for electric scooters in the city.

The department’s new rules — released in August — regulate the placement and use of electric scooters over the course of a year-long trial period. According to the policy, there can be no more than 300 active scooters within the city, and the “fleets” must be distributed evenly throughout Providence’s five districts.

The City tried to “ensure that the zones pushed scooter companies to provide mobility access to Providence residents with an eye to both racial and income equity,” wrote Ben Smith, deputy director of communications for Mayor Jorge Elorza, in an email to The Herald.

These goals tie into the affordability programs offered by the services; Lime and Bird both have discounts available for those who participate in any state or federally run assistance program, according to the company websites. Bird’s programs, also available to active and retired military personnel, eliminate the $1 flat-ride fee, so a ride would cost $0.15 per minute. Lime’s program cuts the cost of scooter rides by 50 percent, which allows for cheaper long rides, and participants may pay in cash at PayNearMe locations, according to its website. “Improving access to low-cost transportation solutions and reducing costs associated with car ownership are essential to reducing household transportation costs for Providence residents,” Smith wrote.

The Department of Public Works’ policy also re-iterates ordinances against obstructing the public right-of-way to prevent scooters from being parked and tipped over in front of residences and businesses. Scooters are now equipped with instructions on proper parking and outfitted with tip-over sensors.

In line with the policies introduced with the bike-share programs, Lime and Bird also “must agree to share all data with the City at no cost in order to be eligible for authorization,” Smith wrote. This data is important for developing apps such as the Transit App, ensuring companies comply with regulations and informing future planning decisions on public use of the scooters.

Currently, 90 percent of the city’s emissions come from diesel and gasoline, but Elorza has set a goal for Providence to become carbon neutral by 2050. As the trial period for the scooters moves forward, environmental groups in the city will assess the scooters’ effect on carbon emissions. The Office of Sustainability of the City of Providence is looking to update their greenhouse gas inventory for next year and will be able to assess the impact of the ridesharing services in greater detail after the report is released, said Municipal Energy Manager Dino Larson.

Bird and Lime spokespeople could not be reached for comment by press time.


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