Electric scooters may soon be riding into Canton

A man rides an electric Bird scooter in Los Angeles’ Venice neighborhood in 2019. Bird is proposing an agreement to establish an e-scooter sharing program with the village of Canton, which would follow only a handful of other community arrangements in New York since the state legalized e-scooters and e-bikes in 2020. Tribune News Service

CANTON — A fleet of electric scooters may one day roll through Canton.

The village Board of Trustees on Wednesday night hosted a presentation from Bird, an electric scooter sharing company based in Southern California. Since its founding in 2017, Bird has grown programs in more than 300 municipalities in the United States and Europe.

Bird representative Jeremy R. Lynch briefed trustees about an arrangement, which would come at no cost to the village. The program is facilitated on the Bird mobile app with a company account manager assigned to municipalities and a fleet manager hired locally to oversee charging and relocation of scooters during a night-time window. Fleet managers also receive a portion of revenue generated on each ride.

For Canton, a fleet could be about 50 units, Mr. Lynch said, though a fleet manager would likely start out with 15 to get used to the operation. Over time, the fleet manager would be responsible for adapting to where the units are used the most and handling the full fleet.

The 44-pound scooters are powered by an electric battery that lasts about 30 miles on a single charge. Each unit reaches a top speed of 15 mph and is equipped with a headlight, brake lights and an internal GPS tracking system.

Bird riders, who must be at least 18 years old and submit a driver license or state-issued ID on the app, are required to complete a safety tutorial prior to their first ride. The tutorial, Mr. Lynch said, covers operating the scooter, parking protocols and local rules, which are customized for each arrangement. The standard ride fee is $1, plus 39 cents per minute.

The scooters are only operational when a ride is reserved through the Bird app, and the village would have authority to adjust specific riding rules and regulate parking. The units are dockless and can theoretically be parked anywhere, but they are programmed based on the set rules. A unit would stop working as it enters a prohibited area, for example, and the parking process involves uploading a photo to the app.

Though bicycle sharing programs aren’t new, e-bike and e-scooter popularity has swelled nationwide only in the last few years. Bird and similar companies, like Lime, Spin and Skip, are continuing to expand inland from major coastal cities.

In New York, the path to legalization of e-bikes and e-scooters has been winding. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his 2019 executive budget proposed amending state Vehicle and Traffic Law to legalize both modes of transportation for New Yorkers at least 16 years old with the inclusion of certain safety regulations.

The state Legislature handily passed a drafted bill in June 2019, but in December that year, the governor vetoed the measure. He described the bill as “fatally flawed” without anticipated inclusion of lower speed limits, mandatory helmets, lights and bells and the prohibition of operating while under the influence.

Last spring, the governor again attached legalization to the 2021 budget with the added safety elements, and in August 2020, Yonkers became the first municipality in the state to launch an e-scooter sharing program.

Existing pedal bike sharing programs in Ithaca and Rochester have started to branch out. Ithaca Common Council began negotiating a pilot e-scooter program with Lime in 2019 in anticipation of legalization, but the COVID-19 pandemic stalled plans. Rochester City Council and the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority are partnering with the Florida-based CycleHop, doing business as HOPR. The new program launched in June, with 200 pedal bikes, 200 e-bikes and 100 e-scooters.

Bird launched a program with 50 e-scooters in the city of Oswego this month. Mr. Lynch said the program is so far extremely popular.

The New York City Department of Transportation in April announced Bird, Lime, and VeoRide as participants in its inaugural e-scooter pilot. Riders of e-bikes and e-scooters, particularly downstate, previously faced fines and confiscation for using motorized or alternatively powered units.

Vehicle and Traffic Law now defines an e-scooter as being no more than 60 inches long, 26 inches wide, 55 inches tall, and designed to transport one person sitting or standing. E-scooters, according to the law, are capable of being “propelled by any other power other than muscular power.”

The law groups e-bikes by class, with maximum speed limits set at 20 mph for Class 1 and Class 2, and 25 mph for Class 3. The maximum speed limit for e-scooters is set at 15 mph. Sidewalk use is prohibited for all types of units; helmets are required for all Class 3 e-bike riders; and helmets are required for all 16- and 17-year-old e-scooter riders.

Mr. Lynch said Bird has approached several other north country municipalities, including Potsdam and Plattsburgh. Because the state go-ahead is so new, he said, most communities “want to see everybody else put their toe in the water first.” He added the company expects more communities to sign on in the spring.

Canton’s next step, Mayor Michael E. Dalton said, is to discuss a potential program and bring in officials from SUNY Canton and St. Lawrence University.

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