City to take electric scooters for a test ride
NEW ULM — Electric scooters will be allowed on the bicycle/walking path around town, at least temporarily.
The New Ulm City Council unanimously approved a micromobility vehicle sharing operation license for a company called Bird. Bird will bring 50 electric scooters that can be rented and shared throughout the community.
In addition to approving the license, the council adopted a new ordinance regulating micromobility sharing operations. The electric scooters being brought to New Ulm are classified as micromobility vehicles. The city ordinance also identifies bicycles and electric-assisted bicycles as micromobility vehicles.
The council’s major decision was whether to allow the e-scooters on the bike path. Currently, the bike path does not allow motorized vehicles, except for electric wheelchairs, but the state does allow the city to make an additional exception.
The New Ulm Park and Recreation Commission was also asked to review the ordinance and make a recommendation on where micromobility could be used. During the April 29 Parks and Rec meeting, the commission unanimously recommended restricting the use of these vehicles on sidewalks but recommended allowing the e-scooters on the bike trail. This recommendation was approved 6-1 and carried the requirement the scooters be capped to a speed of 12 mph.
The city council ultimately agreed to this recommendation but was hesitant to allow the e-scooters on the bike path. Before approving the licensing agreement with Bird, the council voted 3-2 on adopting the micromobility sharing ordinance, with Councilors Larry Mack and Eric Warmka voting against it.
Mack and Warmka said they did not receive any calls from the public in favor of allowing the e-scooters on the path. The comments were in support of keeping the path for walking and non-motorized vehicles.
Councilor Les Schultz was willing to give the e-scooters a chance. Schultz said he received calls for and against letting the scooters operate on the bike trail, but he remembered the same arguments happening a few years ago about golf carts. At that time, many people said golf carts would never work and there would be several issues. Golf carts were ultimately approved for use on city streets and no serious issue has been reported.
“We’re bringing 50 scooters to town and not all 50 are going to be on the bike trail,” Schultz said. “The bike trail is used, but it is not used extensively where I think these e-scooters are going to be an issue.”
Councilor David Christian was also willing to allow it. He agreed with Schultz on the golf cart controversy. He said at the time many felt “the sky is falling” but nothing became of it.
“I would like to give this a try,” he said with the understanding that if it did not work, usage of the e-scooters is restricted.
Christian said the calls he received were mixed on the issue. He said one caller commented that bicycles frequently go down the path at 20 mph. The e-scooters will be capped at 12 mph.
Schultz said he thought the users of the e-scooters would be responsible for the vehicles. He believed the primary users would be tourists exploring New Ulm.
It was confirmed during the meeting that Bird only allowed people 18 and over to rent these scooters, preventing underage people from using the vehicles irresponsibly. In addition, people had to pay to use the e-scooters.
“I think the quality of the folks that will be using these will be good citizens and good to the people on the bike trails,” Schultz said.
Warmka agreed, that the scooters would be used for tourism. His only reservation was whether this opened the bike trail up to allowing other electric vehicles. What is to stop a golf cart from going down the trail.
Council President Andrea Boettger said e-scooters were a new concept in cities but was confident allowing e-scooters on the trail would not extend to golf carts. She said the trail was not designed for golf carts, like some roads are not designed for large trailer vehicles.
Boettger believed allowing the e-scooters on trails would be popular with tourists, but also hoped New Ulm citizens would take advantage of the trail. It could give people greater access to the city.
City Manager Chris Dalton said micromobility sharing operations are becoming more common across the country. He said not everyone wants to drive a car to get around. It could be argued that every e-scooter in operation would take one car off the road.
The licensing agreement approved by the city would allow BIrd to program the e-scooters. Bird can restrict the speed of scooters. All of these scooters have a maximum speed of 15 mph, but the company can program in a lower top speed. In addition, Bird can limit top speed based on the location of the e-scooter. This means the company can program the e-scooter to reduce its top speed when operating on a bike path. This would reduce the city need to enforce a speed limit.
City Attorney Roger Hippert said the license agreement was being decided through negotiation with Bird, but the ordinance could apply to other micromobility companies. Bird only does e-scooters, but this license agreement could apply to an e-bike sharing operation in the future.
Hippert confirmed the city could terminate the agreement or amend the agreement with Bird with a 14-day notice.
Christian said the city had the power to change the ordinance and there were likely other types of electric vehicles to be considered in the future.
Warmka was in favor of bringing a new service to the community and made the motion to authorize the micromobility vehicle sharing operation with bird and allow the city manager and city attorney to make changes as needed. Mack seconded the motion. It was unanimously approved.
No official start date for the rental service is established, but it could begin as early as June.
The council received the 2020 Performance Measurement Citizen Survey results. This is the tenth year of the citizen survey. The report reflects data for a ten-year period. The survey is sent to 500 New Ulm residents, 125 in each ward. Of the 500 surveys mailed, 226 were returned for a 45% response rate.
Dalton said the scores remain mostly unchanged from previous years. As with previous surveys, New Ulm citizens scored city street and snow plowing conditions the lowest, but on average these scores were still in the satisfactory range. The Fire Department had the highest average score at 4.54 out of five. The fire service is consistently the top-ranked service in New Ulm.
Dalton said there were extra comments on blight conditions. He said spring enforcement of the blight ordinance is starting. The commercial side of blight enforcement is also starting.
Schultz said he noticed fewer complaints this year and was surprised there were fewer negative comments about the utility bills considering the high gas prices in February.
“We seem to see the same results but that’s a good thing,” Schultz said.
Christian was pleased with the survey considering this was a pandemic year.
Mack noted some comments regarding railroad crossings and asked if there was any progress.
City Engineer Joseph Stadheim said multiple in-town crossings need to be resurfaced that the railroad has not gotten to yet. The city has identified potential state and federal funding for gates and lights at three crossings.