Tuesday, October 26, 2021
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Redwood City welcomes new alternative transportation | Local News

Redwood City residents may soon spot rentable scooters and e-bikes popping up in the city after councilmembers shared strong support for welcoming the alternative modes of transportation within city limits to boost connectivity and reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled.  

“This is going to really add to the portfolio of transportation options that residents in our community have,” Councilmember Michael Smith said during Monday’s council meeting. 

In a 7-0 vote, the council amended a city ordinance to allow third-party vendors to seek permits for operating shared micromobility services in the city. The program is aimed at improving last-mile connections from mass transit while increasing access to businesses and the number of trips made without vehicles by 2044, Transportation Manager Jessica Manzi said.

Paired with the permitting program would be a series of fees aimed at covering what costs the city might absorb in hosting the devices. The service fees would include a $2,000 application fee that would be required when first seeking and renewing a permit or when eyeing an expansion and a refundable public property and maintenance fee of $5,000. Vendors would also have to pay a quarterly fee of 15 cents per rider. 

An annual review of the fee plan will be conducted by staff to determine whether the fees adequately cover the city costs in maintaining the program. The review will also allow councilmembers to make changes to the program and fees if needed. 

Councilmember Diana Reddy shared her excitement for the program, which was amplified after staff offered assurances that measures would be taken to discourage bad behavior such as pedestrians being “mowed down” by people on electric devices or scooters and bikes ending up in the lagoon. 

Malahat Owrang, principal transportation planner for the city, noted that while bad behavior is sometimes inevitable, vendors keep track of which users are causing disturbances and can remove them from the platform. 

The city ordinance would also require vendors to rebalance and redistribute their fleet of devices at least once a day and twice in busy areas, removing the devices from unpermitted areas in the process. 

“Bad behavior happens,” Owrang said. “Operators will know and they’ll have to go and fix it in a day.” 

Vendors would also have to agree to share some of their usage data they collect with the city as part of the permit agreement. The anonymized data the city would receive includes usage per device per day, collisions, complaints, pick-up and drop-off areas and vandalism locations. 

Aiming to promote equitable access to the services, the city ordinance also requires vendors to provide alternative payment options for people without bank accounts or credit cards, text message activation for people without smartphones, website and mobile access for people with disabilities, a 24-hour toll-free customer service hotline and bilingual education and outreach materials. 

The city will also strongly encourage operators to provide discount plans for low-income riders and to fill needed employment positions with locals, Owrang said. 

Education around the program was a top priority for city officials. Councilmember Jeff Gee called for a “robust education component” that would target both future users of the devices and drivers, “so that everyone can learn how to coexist together on our city streets.”

Mayor Diane Howard agreed with Gee, suggesting the city could assist by placing electronic signs around the city alerting the public to the new program. The cost of doing so would need to be passed onto operators through the fee plan, especially if the signs become permanent, she said. 

Even without the signs, Vice Mayor Giselle Hale said the public will quickly become aware of the program and encouraged officials to mark their calendars for when check-ins will be necessary. 

“I’m certain this will be noted by the public when they see these devices around town,” Hale said. “I am excited about the idea of making our transit more accessible and having more solutions for that last mile.”

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