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THE LAST WORD: Scooters galore in downtown Fort Wayne mark a new era in local transportation

Kerry Hubartt

Suddenly in the past couple of weeks, downtown Fort Wayne has been abuzz with people riding scooters. I’ve seen groups of two, three and four zipping down sidewalks. I was slowed down to a crawl driving my car on Spy Run last week as I followed one solitary scooter rider ahead of me in my lane.

It’s a new era, and one in the Summit City that is just catching up with cities throughout the state and nation. And along with the advent of scooters are rules and regulations — as well as the lack of same — that go with any new trend to try to make it effective as well as safe.

“In the Wild West of transportation, no one knows what to do about scooters,” said a recent CNN Wire story about the new fad. “They appeared suddenly in many cities, triggering complaints of clutter and blocked sidewalks. When ridden, scooters emerged as sidewalk bullies — fast enough to unsettle pedestrians and create safety issues. But force scooters into the streets and they are slow and vulnerable amid two-ton vehicles, not to mention potholes that can swallow small tires.”

The challenge for communities and their governments is to figure out how to regulate and enforce rules about where, when and how scooters should be used. Indianapolis and Bloomington are among cities that have previously dealt with the challenges of scooter companies providing rides in their downtowns.

The Indiana Legislature passed House Bill 1640 in this year’s session, signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb in April, that limits financial responsibility for scooters by removing them from the motor vehicle code, thus exempting them from title and registration requirements. The measure includes amendments that ban scooter use on interstate highways and grant local governments the ability to regulate where scooters are parked.

The bill makes into law the authority already used by some local governments throughout the state, such as Indianapolis that has a scooter ordinance and other cities that are looking to create their own.

There are several companies that are providing scooter services across the country, such as Lime and Bird, which are used in Indianapolis. Fort Wayne has adopted a pilot program with VeoRide to provide electric scooters as well as pedal bikes that can be rented by the public.

A story by Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly described the Indiana-based startup, begun by a pair of Purdue University graduates at the West Lafayette campus. It explained that between the pilot program’s local debut on Sept. 6 and December 2020, the company will have 300 electric scooters and 150 pedal bikes available in the city. A VeoRide app can be used to unlock a scooter or bike so people can ride to their destination for a fee.

You may see a scooter or two parked on a city street corner, ready for use. Or you may see one parked in a seemingly random place after someone had already used it to get to their destination.

The GFWBW story says VeoRide is responsible to pick up stray bikes and return them to strategic starting points as well as to switch battery packs housed under the scooters’ baseboards.

So what’s the attraction? As the CNN Wire story explained, “Scooters offer an affordable and quick way to make short trips in congested cities, much like bicycles, but without anyone breaking a sweat.”

“This is a first- and last-mile solution for people who use public transit,” Fort Wayne urban planner Dan Baisden told GFWBW. “Being able to get off your bus and find one of these nearby and being able to ride it to your house or whatever is big.”

But I remember hearing from people I know in Bloomington who decried the problems when the scooter experiment first turned up there. Scooters were strewn across the city. And other cities faced similar problems due to lack of regulations or the inability to enforce them.

“We still find scooters in our fountains,” Stewart Goodwin, executive director of the Indiana War Memorials in Indianapolis, told CNN Business. “We find them in the canal. We find them strewn all over the sidewalks.”

Locally, users are expected to follow traditional rules for vehicles, such as not driving recklessly or while under the influence. Fort Wayne has designated “no ride zones,” according to the GFWBW story, such as Promenade Park and the skate park, using geo-fencing data. “Should a rider enter one of these no ride zones,” the story explained, “the scooters will slow down to a stop until the scooter returns to a designated riding area.”

“We want people to walk through the parks nice and slow, not just zoom through them as fast as possible,” Baisden told GFWBW. He said the city will decide following the end of the pilot program period whether to extend the contract with VeoRide.

Meanwhile, watch out for speeding scooters on the sidewalks and those crossing intersections or riding on the streets. This could be a good thing for our burgeoning downtown — or it could be a problem. It’s up to riders and the rest of us to act responsibly.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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