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Newark Will Permanently Keep Its e-Scooter Program

During the trial period, which began in August 2021 and ran for 18 months, city residents have taken 1.45 million scooter rides over 2 million miles. The program will undergo a few changes to appease some concerns.

A pilot electric scooter-sharing program launched in Newark, N.J., 18 months ago has been such a success that the city plans to continue it on a permanent basis, officials said.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Delores Martinez Wooden, acting director of the city’s engineering department, said of the program after a Newark City Council meeting on Tuesday. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

Those numbers include 1.45 million scooter rides over 2 million miles during a trial period that began in August 2021, Wooden told the council during a presentation on the city’s NewarkGo pilot program.

The council delayed action Tuesday after members expressed concerns that scooters were being left around the city haphazardly for days and that minors were riding them, though they are intended for adults 18 or older.

But officials of the two participating scooter companies — Veo Micromobility of Santa Monica, California, and Bird Scooters of South Bend, Indiana — said concerns had been addressed or would be. Later, Council President LaMonica McIver said the city’s ruling body could vote to award both companies 2-year contracts at its Dec. 20 meeting.

Wooden said Mayor Ras J. Baraka’s administration had recommended the city award contracts to the two companies after a competitive bidding process. Both won bids in 2021 to participate in the pilot program.

Proponents of increasingly popular e-scooters say they provide a convenient, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly way to get around for people who can’t afford a car or don’t want the hassle or emissions associated with them. Austin Marshburn, Bird’s director of city & university partnerships, said company research found that 37% of scooter trips would otherwise be made by car.

Veo’s fleet of 1,000 metallic and aqua scooters and Bird’s 1,000 black and teal models can be found at several dozen “docking stations,” or marked areas around the city, or almost anywhere they’ve been left by their last user — on a sidewalk, leaning against a wall, or laying on the ground.

Council members Anibal Ramos and Dupré Kelly told company officials that residents had complained of scooters being left for days in the same spot, on lawns or in front of driveways.

Company officials noted that under the permanent program, the maximum a scooter could remain in any location would be three days, down from five during the pilot. City and company officials said only three accidents involving injuries had occurred under the program. They noted the shared scooters’ top speed was 15 mph, slower than privately owned models that have fueled a perception of scooters as dangerous.

In any case, company officials said, they would move offending scooters immediately upon being contacted.

Baraka has been a strong supporter of scooters and rode on a path along the banks of the Passaic River in May when the NewarkGo program announced its millionth rider in less than a year.

Would-be riders must open an account linked to a bank account, credit card or other payment source to maximize their riding opportunities. It’s free to open an account, but both companies charge $1 each time an account holder electronically “unlocks” a scooter to ride it, plus about 40 cents per minute — not per mile — for the rental.

A key difference between the permanent and pilot programs is that the city will share in the revenues. In addition to collecting a $125,000 permit fee from each company, the city will get 25 cents for each ride. Officials said the total estimated revenues from the permit and ride fees will be $300,000 a year.

Wooden told the council that people opened more than 100,000 accounts throughout the trial period, 79% of which belonged to Newark residents. The rest were out-of-town account holders, said Jeff Hoover, Veo’s director of government partnerships.

He said the two companies used billing zip codes to estimate the share of account holders who lived in the city.

Some people were likely to have accounts with both companies to maximize their ridership opportunities, Hoover said. Out-of-town account holders were most likely to be people who work or go to school in the city, he said.

The companies employ a total of 35 people in Newark, all of them residents. Each scooter averages two rides per day for the year as a whole, though fewer in winter and more during the summertime peak, the companies said.

The number of accounts and the percentage opened by residents means that tens of thousands of Newark’s roughly 307,000 residents had scooter accounts at some point during the trial period, reflecting what city and company officials said was a high degree of participation in the program. McIver said she was confident the figures were accurate.

“I do feel like a lot of people utilize the program,” she said. “I see a lot of people riding them.”



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