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Baltimore to add new vendors, extend scooter pilot program for two more months

Baltimore’s dockless scooter pilot program, which authorizes Bird and Lime to place thousands of electric scooters on streets, will be extended by two months to allow the city transportation department more time to introduce legislation for regulating the companies.
Baltimore’s dockless scooter pilot program, which authorizes Bird and Lime to place thousands of electric scooters on streets, will be extended by two months to allow the city transportation department more time to introduce legislation for regulating the companies. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

Two more companies, Spin and JUMP, will join Baltimore’s dockless vehicle pilot program, which is expected to be extended by two months to allow the city more time to consider legislation for regulating scooter and bike rentals.

The two newcomers will join Bird and Lime in the pilot program, according to the Board of Estimates agenda. The pilot, which launched in August and was supposed to last through the end of February, requires each company to pay the city $15,000 plus a dollar per day for each scooter.

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But the draft legislation to regulate the program permanently sparked intense opposition last month, after it initially proposed jailing riders who violated the rules for a month or subjecting them to $1,000 fine. The city Department of Transportation later removed the penalties, and said they were never intended to be imposed on riders.

The two-month extension of the pilot program will allow for further evaluation and more time to devise legislation that could clear a City Council vote, said German Vigil, a Department of Transportation spokesman.

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“We’re not sure if the legislation [as written] will pass,” Vigil said. “We want to make sure we give it ample enough time to make sure it does pass.”

Baltimore approved agreements with Bird and Lime this week, allowing them to operate a six-month pilot program in the city while the transportation department studies how, and whether, to regulate them. Here are 10 takeaways.

The department will make the request Wednesday to the Board of Estimates, the city’s spending panel, which is controlled by Mayor Catherine Pugh. The board is expected to approve the requested extension until April 30, Vigil said. If it does not, the pilot program will end Thursday.

Bird spokeswoman Mackenzie Long said the company was thrilled to hear the pilot program will continue into the spring and called Baltimore “a leader in embracing transportation innovation.”

“Bird hopes to remain a close partner to city officials and staff as they contemplate the long-term future of e-scooters for Baltimore,” Long said in a statement.

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Lime spokesman Scott Mulhauser declined to comment. Spin and JUMP, which is owned by Uber, did not respond to requests for comment.

The delay also follows the departure of the transportation department’s top bicycle planner, Matt Warfield, who oversaw the program until resigning last month, citing “bullying, intimidation, and outright harassment, originating from the highest level of leadership.”

Unlike the Baltimore Bike Share program it replaced, the current scooter pilot program is generally popular.

Two-thirds of the more than 5,000 people who responded to a recent city transportation department survey said they had used either Bird or Lime scooters. More than four in five of those polled said they supported continuing the program, although support and usage among those 55 and older was far lower than their younger counterparts.

More than half the respondents were ages 25-39 and 75 percent of them were white, according to the survey results.

Nearly 80 percent of people who used the scooters acknowledged that they don’t wear a helmet when they ride, according to the survey.

The Baltimore transportation department will amend legislation that could have exposed people who ride a rental scooter too fast or on some city sidewalks to a month in jail and a $1,000 fine. Spokesman German Vigil says the department never expected scooter riders to face jail time.

The top suggestions for improvement by those surveyed? Safe places to ride and more scooters.

“We feel that we’re in a good place,” Vigil said. “We’ve accepted enough information from the survey to create a policy that will be beneficial for everyone.”

The pilot program has been a success and deserves to be continued until regulation is in place, said Jed Weeks, policy director for Bikemore, the city’s top bicycling advocacy group.

“With over 750,000 rides during the pilot period and survey results showing overwhelming support for program continuation, even among people who have never ridden an e-bike or scooter, it makes sense for the pilot to be extended while permanent regulations are formalized,” Weeks said in a statement.

Officials had emphasized equity as a top goal of the pilot program, requiring each operator to place a quarter of its scooters per day in low-income neighborhoods.

It’s unclear whether they are doing so, because the companies have refused to give the city maps or numbers showing how many scooters they have placed and where.

More than 60 percent of users surveyed said they hailed scooters from 21230, 21201, 21202, 21231 and 21224 — the wealthier areas surrounding downtown and the waterfront.

Bird and Lime also have either not provided or prohibited the city from releasing specific ridership, crash, theft or other data, citing confidentiality concerns.

“The next two months we’re going to be really discussing with them better ways to provide that information,” Vigil said. “It’s something we’re hoping for. It’s something I feel like we can accomplish together.”

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