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Boise looking to reform e-scooter system to bring more transit options, possible lower costs

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Boise’s e-scooter business is set for a shakeup. 

Right now, three different e-scooter companies have permission to operate within Boise City limits. Lime, Byrd and Spin are licensed operators in the City of Boise and have to abide by an ordinance passed by Boise City Council in 2018 to accommodate the battery-powered vehicles. Since then, all three companies have placed their scooters in and around downtown Boise for users to pick up and leave wherever they choose. 

This could soon change. 

Starting next year, the city is looking at a new model where only one scooter company will operate in the City of Boise as a partnership. This means the company would operate with the city calling the shots, making the scooters an extension of the city’s bus network in an effort to get people around for more than just late-night joyrides. 

“Rather than just regulating (e-scooter companies), let’s work with them to address issues that which we would like addressed, whether it’s the affordability issue, the geographic distribution, or other issues around how we deal with safety and the deployment of the devices around the city, ”Boise Planning and Development Services Director Tim Keane told City Council on Tuesday. “…We feel it will be better for just to be working in partnership on things that will improve the city and the process of them operating their business.”

Keane said the goal is to launch the new revamped e-scooter system by next May. 

What could this new system look like?

The exact details of how the system will work are still under development. 

Keane said the first move the city made was to extend the contracts of Byrd and Lime through March so all three companies will have their existing licenses expire at the same time next year. In the meantime, the city is set to put out a request for proposals looking for interested e-scooter companies next month with the goal of choosing one in January. Then, the city will work with the company and Boise City Council to develop the policy for how the system will work. 

Other cities have started moving toward this model, including Portland, Keane said.

Boise State University and Valley Regional Transit both have contracts for their own micro-mobility systems, with BSU using a contract governing e-scooters on campus and VRT running an e-bike pilot program in downtown Boise. Keane said the goal would be to combine both of those things into one overarching system for getting around on rented e-bikes or e-scooters. 

Keane said any company pitching to be the City of Boise’s partner on this project should propose ways to use the scooters to connect people to and from transit stops where they might not be directly within walking distance of the bus, instead of just the downtown core. He’s also interested in proposals that would bring ride fees down for users, or potentially in specific areas of the city where people would be using the scooters to get to and from transit or work instead of just for recreation. 

This model would also be open to private sponsorships like Boise GreenBike was before it shut down. Bringing in other companies to subsidize the system would mean an easier time reaching areas of the city that won’t turn as much of a profit for the e-scooter company, but would serve a community need. 

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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