City Council hears proposal for electric scooter rental firm to operate in Magnolia : KZHE News Blog
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City Council hears proposal for electric scooter rental firm to operate in Magnolia

by J.D. Bailey on 06/28/22

The Magnolia City Council this week heard and discussed a proposal from California-based firm Bird Rides, Inc., to partner with the standup electric scooter company to operate a rental service in Magnolia. The proposal -- technically called a memorandum of understating (MOU) between the city and the scooter company -- if passed, would allow the devices to be rented and ridden throughout the city and be subject to the same rules, regulations, and travel access as local cyclists.

According to the company’s website, Bird Rides partners with cities across the nation to help implement standup electric scooters as a form of “micromobility.” The business offers rentals via its mobile app platform and collects scooters wherever they are left around a city. According to the app, the company charges a $1 rental fee, plus 39 cents per mile.

Although the Magnolia City Council took no action on the piece of business Monday, the MOU was read aloud and a short discussion on the matter took place.

Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann informed the Council that Bird Rides approached the city via its economic development office. The local leader stated that he did not know much else about the project other than what was in the MOU, but noted that a similar scooter program currently operates in El Dorado. The mayor also thought the Southern Arkansas University campus area would be an ideal place to house a scooter hub.

“We could base them at the university and encourage them to bring them downtown and continue to try to tie SAU into Magnolia,” said Vann.

Alderman Steve Nipper noted that SAU has housed bicycles for students for years, but not electronic scooters.

Other council members added to the discussion and stated that similar scooter programs are popular in larger urban areas in the region, including Little Rock and Memphis.

Most of the topics discussed Monday, however, revolved around possible liability language in the deal, how the scooters would be collected and charged, and how any rules on the scooter travel could be enforced with a limited police force with often more important matters at hand.

“I want to help the citizens that use this with gas being as high as it is, but I also don’t have the police manpower to be policing a bunch of scooters when I’ve got other issues,” said Vann.

The MOU stated that only those 18 and older could ride or rent the scooters, but Alderman Steve Crowell noted that he had seen younger teens riding and renting the scooters via the app.

Other language in the proposed Bird Rides MOU included the following:

  • The agreement with the city would last until Dec. 31, 2022, and have an annual 12-month renewal

  • The 12-month renewal can be voided if the city informs Bird Rides of the matter at least 90 days before renewal

  • Either party can terminate the agreement with 30 days' notice if the operation of the scooters is seen as unsafe or the service is not practical

  • No one else can deploy a stand-up electric scooter sharing system in Magnolia

  • The city will regulate the scooters just as it would bicycles, including granting them the ability to ride in bike lanes and on the roadways

  • Anyone under 18 riding the scooters can be fined by the city for violations

  • Bird Rides will provide easily seen contact information for scooter rentals, relocation, or issues with the devices

  • The city can choose to cease hours of operation between midnight and 4 a.m., but otherwise, the scooters will be available 24 hours per day.

  • Rider education will be provided to renters by Bird Rides

  • Bird Rides will provide data sharing to the city to monitor how much the scooter program is being used

  • Bird Rides is absolved of any damages if the city is deemed to be at fault in an incident

  • The city cannot enter into any injury judgment or settlement without prior consent from Bird Rides and Bird Rides

  • Bird Rides shall provide the city with proof of liability insurance coverage for scooter use

  • Bird Rides negligence compensation obligation does not extend to city agents, employees, or affiliates

  • Bird Rides is absolved from any compensation for loss or damage if the matter was caused by the city’s negligence or maintenance of public infrastructure

  • Bird Rides can use independent logistics providers to facilitate local operations

  • All notices to the city shall be made in writing

  • Bird Rides remains an independent contractor with the city’s partnership

After the MOU was read, City Attorney Jennifer McKendree noted that the city’s bicycle codes may need to be reviewed to apply to the scooters. She also suggested implementing the midnight to 4 a.m. shutdown of scooters.

Although no action was taken on the scooter issue this week, the matter will likely appear on the Magnolia City Council’s agenda for a potential vote in July.

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