PORT ANGELES — The City of Port Angeles has approved a contract with Bird Rides LLC to offer electric scooters available for rent.
Bird LLC first pitched its stand-up electric scooters to the City Council on July 19. The council, on a first reading, unanimously authorized the city manager to sign an agreement with the company to allow it to operate in Port Angeles. Final action on the pact was taken Tuesday.
The Sequim City Council agreed 5-2 to a contract with Bird Scooters on July 18. Deputy Mayor Brandon Janisse and council member Kathy Downer voted against Sequim bringing them into the city, with Downer saying at different meetings she was concerned about people tripping over scooters left on sidewalks.
The scooters would be rented through an app and would cost $1 to start with a 30-cent to a 49-cent additional charge per minute.
“The mission is to get people out of their cars and solve the last-mile problem to connect people to other forms of transportation,” said Camille Didio, senior account executive for Bird Rides.
Both cities agreed to temporary operating agreements to allow the company to bring the pay-as-you-go scooters in the cities through Sept. 30, 2023, unless renewed or extended by the councils.
“The limited time period specified in the agreement allows [the city of Port Angeles] and its residents and visitors to evaluate the benefits and possible disadvantages of the e-scooter share program,” said Jessica Straits, Port Angeles’ communications and records management coordinator.
No start date was provided for either city from Bird representatives.
Before the scooters can hit the streets, Bird Rides needs to find a contractor that will manage the fleets, making sure the e-scooters are stored properly, charged and operational, and picked up from where they are left around the city.
Another hurdle in Port Angeles is that the city must make changes to its municipal code in regard to electric scooters, dictating where they can be ridden, who can ride them, and whether or not riders need to wear helmets.
On Tuesday, the city discussed those changes. Port Angeles City Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin advocated removing as many of the restrictions as possible and rebuilding the policy around electric scooters in general, not just the ones provided by Bird.
“If we are going to burden people’s liberty and freedom to do what they want to do, we need to have a good reason. It needs to protect the health, safety and welfare, and if we can’t think of that reason, then we throw the code out,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
Schromen-Wawrin urged opening up the areas in which the scooters could be ridden, lowering the riding age to allow more teens access to the scooters, and limiting the policing of helmet laws.
The current code limited scooters to streets with speed limits of 25 mph or less. Other Port Angeles council members agreed that the city could widen that to areas with higher speeds with bike lanes that the scooters could utilize.
Many of the council members were either on the fence or in favor of lowering the age restrictions.
Bird is planning to restrict ridership to persons 18 and older. The current city code allows for those 16 and older to ride.
“I have mixed feelings about the age limits,” Port Angeles City Council member Navara Carr said.
“It makes sense to have any motorized vehicle be for people who can drive and have proper licensure, but I am also thinking about how if I were a kid and I had access, I probably would just be riding them … I think if we go by whatever it says on the manufacturer’s manual, we should be fine.”
The proposal that the Port Angeles council took most issues and opposition to was the proposal to repeal the helmet requirement.
“One point that I feel very strongly on, we just helped install a pump track (e-scooters will not be allowed on the pump track) and the operators of the pump track are working their tails off to get kids to wear helmets at that pump track,” said council member Mike French.
“A child died at the skate park next to the pump track because they were not wearing a helmet,” he said, referring to the 2006 death of 14-year-old Frank Russo, who was fatally injured while skateboarding without a helmet at the park in Port Angeles.
“If we as leaders in the community say we are repealing a helmet law, I will throw a fit.”
Port Angeles City Council member LaTrisha Suggs also said she supported maintaining helmet requirements.
In July, The Columbian reported Bird pulled out of an agreement with the City of Battle Ground weeks after its city leaders agreed to allow the e-scooters in the city.
In June, Bird Rides laid off nearly one-fourth of its workforce and received a warning from the New York Stock Exchange when its (Bird Global) stock went below $1 for 30 consecutive days, according to news reports.
For more information about Bird Rides, visit bird.co.
Ken Park and Matthew Nash are reporters with the Olympic Peninsula News Group. Park is a reporter with the Peninsula Daily News and can be reached at [email protected] Nash is a reporter with the Sequim Gazette. Reach him at [email protected]. The two newspapers, along with the Forks Forum, constitute the Olympic Peninsula News Group.