Duke Behnke | Appleton Post-Crescent USA TODAY NETWORK – WISCONSIN
GRAND CHUTE – Bird electric scooters will be coming to sections of Grand Chute this year, allowing riders to reach destinations like the Fox River Mall and Fox Valley Technical College.
The Town Board approved a one-year contract with Bird Rides Inc. on Thursday, allowing the company to deploy as many as 50 scooters in Grand Chute.
“Their big goal was to include the mall,” Town Chair Jason Van Eperen told The Post-Crescent.
Bird is an app-based dockless scooter sharing program. Customers locate the stand-up, battery-powered scooters through the app, rent them by the minute and leave them at their destination point. There are no fixed locations where rides must begin or end. Riders must be age 18 or older.
The scooters offer additional transportation options and reduce the reliance on motor vehicles for short trips. They are regulated the same way as bicycles.
Appleton, Neenah and Menasha also have approved contracts to allow Bird scooters in their communities.
Where will the scooters be allowed to scoot?
In Grand Chute, the scooters will be geofenced to operate only within designated areas. On major thoroughfares such as West Wisconsin Avenue, North Lynndale Drive, North Bluemound Drive, Outagamie County GV and North Casaloma Drive, the scooters can be used only on sidewalks and trails.
To accommodate the program, the Town Boardamended an ordinance to allow electric scooters and electric bicycles on town trails and sidewalks. The ordinance sets the maximum speed at 20 mph and states riders must yield the right of way to pedestrians.
The scooters won’t be permitted on Interstate 41 or West Northland Avenue.
“You just can’t take them anywhere you want,” Van Eperen said.
Appleton council brings back scooters, but notes concerns
Appleton brought back Bird scooters for a third year, but not without some hesitation. The contract with Bird passed Wednesday on a 12-3 vote of the Common Council, with Vered Meltzer, Israel Del Toro and Maiyoua Thao in opposition.
Meltzer said Bird scooters have “a lot of inherent value” and “do wonderful things in other communities,” but he said the previous two years have shown they are a significant safety risk and aren’t the right fit for Appleton.
The abundance of bars in Appleton, Meltzer said, makes it difficult to distance scooters from alcohol.
“I think that the combination of the drinking culture in Appleton and the safety issues that I hear increasing at the hospitals would only continue increasing if we continue to have Bird scooters,” he said.
Del Toro said he uses Bird scooters and finds them accessible and practical, but he voted against their return due to concerns expressed by residents of Eagle Point Senior Living who have encountered dangerous situations with Bird scooters on trails.
Council member Kristin Alfheim supported bringing back the scooters. Many riders use the scooters for entertainment, she said, but others rely on them to get from one location to another.
She acknowledged the issues with rider behaviors, however.
“I wish in a number of situations we could just legislate away the dumbness of how things are used,” Alfheim said.
Bird increases payments to Neenah and Menasha
During its first two years in Appleton, Bird paid the city 10 cents per ride to offset its administrative, educational and enforcement expenses associated with the program.
Appleton negotiated with Bird to increase the payment to 20 cents per ride this year, raising the city’s projected income from $5,800 to $11,600.
Neenah and Menasha, meanwhile, were continuing with the 10- cent rate, until The Post-Crescent reported the discrepancy.
“Recently an article in The Post-Crescent noted that the city of Appleton negotiated an increase in the city payment from $0.10 per ride to $0.20 per ride,” Menasha Community Development Director Sam Schroeder said in an April 3 memorandum to the Menasha Common Council. “In light of regionalism and joint cooperation, Bird scooters provided a communication to staff that they will be increasing this payment to both the city of Neenah and Menasha to $0.20 to match what is being provided to the city of Appleton.”
The Grand Chute contract with Bird doesn’t include any payment to the town.