NORMAL — A potential Twin City scooter rental program could spin out due to state regulations.
Normal is considering adding electric scooters to its Bike Share 309 initiative as soon as this year, but that may not be possible, depending how the low-speed vehicles fit into the Illinois Vehicle Code.
"The state law wasn't written in anticipation of this type of transportation. ... It's hard to see these are clearly permitted, but we're working with other municipalities to see what they think, too. There are not other programs in Illinois right now," said Town Planner Mercy Davison.
"We may actively try to change the state law or just wait for it to change."
If electric scooters are classified as motor vehicles, each would need license plates and registration, and users would need licenses to drive. That wouldn't be practical for the kind of rental program the town has in mind, said Davison.
Normal is considering a one-season scooter rental pilot through Zagster, the Boston company that operates Bike Share 309, and San Francisco-based scooter company Spin.
As many as 150 two-wheel motorized scooters would be available to rent without the physical stations bikes use.
"The software can draw 'geofences' around areas where you (want) and don't want them to be parked or used," said Davison. That technology would also allow speed limits in specific areas that the scooters would be programmed to obey.
Davison said scooters are useful for customers and situations beyond what a bicycle can do — and vice versa.
"It hurts me as bicyclist to say, but people think scooters are more fun," she said with a laugh. "It's arguably harder to balance, and if you're carrying things it's more difficult, but it's very convenient for people trying to get from point A to point B in a non-complicated way."
Davison said the program could be free for the town, which would pay Zagster and Spin a portion of user fees.
"These programs are successful enough they don't need a subsidy in the way bike-share programs have in the past," Davison said. "It's very possible a new contract (for bicycles) would look different from the one we have now."
Davison said the town has been pleased with usage of Bike Share 309, which launched in 2017 with nine Bloomington-Normal stations and had 3,189 rides on 47 bikes. In 2018, it had 12 stations and 3,327 rides with 47 bikes.
Davison noted the town is including Illinois State University in deliberations about adding scooters and extending Bike Share 309. Normal is using West Lafayette, Ind., home of Purdue University and another Zagster and Spin client, as a model for development.
"I like the way Zagster manages their program. It's been pretty successful for us," said Chuck Scott, ISU's associate vice president of facilities, of Bike Share 309. "They've been really good with picking up bikes parked in the wrong location, even in the winter."
Scott said the university, like the town, would be concerned about where scooters are left between rides, but he hopes a rental program could reduce car usage on campus and make it a more walkable environment.
"Alternative transportation is very important to people of all ages, and scooters happen to be one of those things the younger population gravitate towards," Scott said. "The university is excited about providing different (transportation) opportunities for our students, visitors, faculty and staff."
Bike Share 309 will resume service in mid-March after shutting down for the winter. The program lets adults use any mobile phone to rent a bicycle and return it to any local station.