MOORHEAD — Moorhead has taken a step closer to having an estimated 100 electric scooters available for those 18 and older to ride around on city streets.
On a 5-2 vote, the City Council on Monday night approved the holding of a public hearing and allowing city staff to develop a franchise agreement permitting Bird Electric Scooters to operate on public property in the city.
Fargo has also had preliminary discussions with the company, but public information manager Ty Filley said further internal discussions among city staff were needed to look at options. Filley added a presentation to the Fargo City Commission hasn't been requested yet. Discussions have also been held with West Fargo officials.
Company representative Kate Shoemaker told the council that the scooters seem to work best in cities roughly the size of Moorhead and that they are an affordable, environmentally friendly and safe way to increase transit opportunities for residents similar to biking. The word used by Bird Electric Scooters is microbility.
The council had several questions, however.
Councilman Larry Seljevold wondered why the company had to go through "all of these hoops" such as the franchise agreement to open a business in the city. He said other businesses don't have to go through such processes.
City Manager Dan Mahli said it's because the scooters operate on public right of ways and wouldn't be on private property like other businesses.
The city charter required a public hearing and franchise agreement, Mahli added.
Safety issues were also brought up by Councilwoman Shelly Dahlquist.
Shoemaker said that in 42 cities about the size of Moorhead, there have been a total of 15 incidents among them all, with the overwhelming majority having zero incidents. In information provided to the council, the company said 10 of the incidents were in one city, Fairfax, Va. Shoemaker also said there have been zero insurance claims filed in those 42 cities.
City police have expressed no concerns about safety, according to Mahli, as they are treated like bicycles. Shoemaker added that the scooters are equipped with headlights and taillights.
Councilman Chuck Hendrickson was in St. Paul recently and noticed college students riding the scooters. He wondered if the company had started conversations with local college campuses about allowing them on their property.
Shoemaker said Bird Electric Scooters usually waits for city approval before approaching schools. If campuses decline, the area would be declared "no ride zones."
Councilman Matt Gilbertson, who voted against moving ahead along with Hendrickson, said he was concerned about the scooters laying haphazardly around on streets and curbs, especially in the summer when college students wouldn't be around.
Gilbertson mentioned that the city of Edina didn't renew their franchise with the company this year and wondered if Shoemaker knew how many cities made similar decisions.
She said she didn't have those statistics, but said sometimes cities take a pause in the operations until they can work out any problems.
Council members Heather Nesemeier and Deb White wondered if low-income residents would have access, too, as it could be an option for them to take to city buses or work.
Shoemaker said one or two company fleet managers would deploy scooters to popular locations and could serve those residents. The current plan is to have the scooters operate downtown, along the Red River corridor and in neighborhoods near the city's colleges.
In order to ride, there is a $1 signup fee and a user agreement to sign, then a per-minute fee paid via its app. Hours of operation are from 4 a.m. to midnight. There is no cost to cities.
Bismarck just signed an agreement with the company, which started in 2017 and currently operates in about 150 cities worldwide.