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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Battle Ground scooter program one to watch

The Columbian
Published: July 13, 2022, 6:03am

Officials in Vancouver, Camas and other Clark County cities should keep a close eye on a new electric scooter program in Battle Ground. The initiative will provide some insight into the viability — and the drawbacks — of scooter rentals in this region.

Unlike other local programs, Battle Ground will allow “dockless” rentals beginning this summer. Customers may rent a scooter through an app, travel to their destination, and leave the scooter at their new location. The city council last week approved an agreement with California-based Bird Rides for a 75-scooter program — 50 in service and 25 in reserve.

Scooters have become increasingly popular in cities throughout the country. They also have created some headaches, with reports of riders encroaching on pedestrians and of scooters being left to block sidewalks or ADA accessibility. In 2019, 57 scooters were pulled from the Willamette River in Portland, apparently tossed there by people annoyed with the electric vehicles.

In 2018, an initial program in San Francisco was quickly shut down. As Vox.com surmised: “The scooters puzzled, infatuated, and infuriated residents. Those who dared to try them discovered a whimsical and cheap way to get around. Non-riders saw a swarm of locusts devouring precious inches of sidewalk and street, backed by companies that were the epitome of tech-bro arrogance. The city panicked, ordering that all scooters be removed.”

Scooters have since returned to the City by the Bay, with tighter regulations. In other words, cities have had mixed experiences with scooters.

For years, tech developers and government officials and segments of the public have sought transportation alternatives. Twenty years ago, Segway was launched, promising to revolutionize urban transportation; it didn’t happen. Now, e-scooters are the hope for a different mode of short travel.

Now, that desire has grown along with increasing gas prices. As a Bird Rides representative wrote to The Columbian: “We are committed to helping people replace car trips with eco-friendly and efficient trips powered by micromobility. Battle Ground 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.”

That is a laudable goal. Not everybody will be willing or able to ride an electric scooter, but for many people it is a viable and environmentally friendly method for getting around town.

Battle Ground’s experiment will be instructive for other cities. In Vancouver, at least two downtown businesses offer a variety of scooter sales and rentals, but Battle Ground will be the first local city to provide scooters that then can be left on the sidewalk — out of the right-of-way, of course.

As Mayor Philip Johnson warned: “I’m somewhat concerned that the city didn’t ask about just leaving them lay around on the sidewalks, those kinds of things.”

That is a valid point, and patrons should be conscientious, lest the city halt the program if it becomes troublesome. Cities have struggled with finding a middle ground on scooter regulations — and how to enforce them. Ideally, Battle Ground’s scooters won’t become such a nuisance that vigilantes deposit them into Weaver Creek.

Instead, we hope the program creates a fun and inexpensive way for people to travel without getting in their car for short trips. And we hope it provides other cities with some insight into electric scooter programs.