By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Loved by some and hated by others, electric scooters are entering their second year in some Wyoming cities.
Cheyenne, Casper, and Laramie last summer all changed their ordinances to allow for shared electric scooters on downtown streets. The solar-powered machines zip along roadways at about 15 miles per hour. They charge users’ credit cards per minute via a phone application that activates the scooter upon scanning a QR code on its body.
The rental ends when the rider, who must be 18 or older, uses the app to take a photograph of the scooter where it was left.
The scooters’ manufacturer, California-based Bird, touts the machines as an emissions-free and readily available transport system for urban areas.
When it welcomed the company’s services last August, the City of Laramie likewise promoted the scooters as a way to help reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion, as well as a way to encourage social distancing.
Cheyenne had already changed its ordinance to allow for scooters on downtown streets just in time for last year’s Cheyenne Frontier Days in July. Casper signed on by the end of August.
And how the complaints have started rolling in.
No Sad Faces
Though he was instrumental in bringing shared bicycles to Cheyenne in 2016, Cheyenne City Councilman Richard Johnson was a “No” vote on the scooters last July.
Johnson told Cowboy State Daily that primarily, he disagreed with the way the vote on the scooter ordinance was rushed to get the scooters on the streets ahead of Cheyenne Frontier Days.
People riding them look happy though, said Johnson.
“I see tons of people riding them, especially young people,” he said. “And I don’t see sad faces when I see people riding them all over town.” But as a city councilman, all Johnson hears are complaints, mostly that riders tend to abandon the scooters on sidewalks.
Johnson estimated there are now hundreds of scooters in Cheyenne. The Cheyenne City Attorney’s office did not have an exact figure on Thursday afternoon.
Bird did not return an email requesting comment.
Kyle Gamroth, Casper City Councilman, also has been hearing some complaints, but as a scooter proponent, he believes the city can work around them.
“We got the same anecdotes (as elsewhere),” said Gamroth.
He cited issues such as riders not obeying traffic laws, not parking the scooters in the right places, not yielding space for wheelchairs and so on.
Gamroth said he’s been visiting with business owners from Casper’s downtown area about potential solutions, such as creating mandatory docking areas for the scooters.
That solution is not without its issues, though, said Gamroth.
“The primary selling point is that it’s a flexible motor transportation to get from point A to point B, and if you have very specific areas around town (in which you must leave them), I guess it reduces that flexibility to get around.”
The Casper City Clerk’s office estimated there are about 80 Bird scooters in the city.
Gamroth said that, unlike Johnson, he has heard from many people who “really enjoy” the scooters.
“I have a Facebook friend that just asked their buddies for this weekend to do a pub crawl” with the scooters, said Gamroth.
Harsh, Icy, Windy
Laramie Mayor Paul Weaver had not returned a voicemail requesting comment by Thursday afternoon.
In the city’s announcement of its new scooter-friendly ordinance last August, Weaver said the city was “happy” to welcome the scooters.
Jackson does not have e-scooters, but Councilman Arne Jorgensen told Cowboy State Daily that some community members have embraced a seasonal bike-sharing system, which seems to generate fewer parking problems than those reported with scooters.
“I think there’s a different mindset with these scooters,” said Jorgensen. “They don’t feel as substantive, so people don’t think about them as much, maybe.”
Jorgensen noted that he’s traveled to several U.S. cities and seen the scooters in action – and dormant.
“I’m not sure if the benefit of that additional transportation system is outweighing the negative of having these items kind of scattered about the public realm,” he said.
Gillette doesn’t have e-scooters either.
Angela Williams, assistant communications director for the city, said the idea has been floated, but hasn’t taken off in the past, probably due to Gillette’s “harsh, icy, windy winters.”
Johnson had noted that in Cheyenne, the scooters stayed out until about October or November of last year, then, he recalled, Bird subcontracted with a local person or entity to store them.
But Williams noted that Gillette’s foul-weather phase can last as long as eight months.
Sheridan, Riverton, and Cody likewise do not have shared e-scooters.