Visitors to many larger metro areas across the country now often have a fun novelty for getting around a city — e-scooters. 

With e-scooters now in Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City, and Omaha set to pilot a program this summer, Des Moines and other cities in Iowa have been busy laying the groundwork for their inevitable launch in the Hawkeye State.
In August, the city of Cedar Rapids plans to pilot an e-scooter program as part of a bike-share initiative it will be launching in Mid-May. Generally, e-scooters have been most popular in cities with significant college campuses nearby and adjacent to tourist-heavy areas. 

Most e-scooter companies charge a dollar to start up an e-scooter — which unlike many bike share programs are typically “dockless” — and 15 cents per minute after that. Equipped with electric motors, most scooters are unlocked by scanning a QR code through a downloaded app provided by the e-scooter provider. Most e-scooter operators send maintenance teams overnight to change out the devices’ batteries with recharged cells. 

The landscape for introducing e-scooters in metro areas “is kind of vague right now,” said Mike Armstrong, director of planning and communications for the Street Collective of Greater Des Moines, which rebranded earlier this year from Des Moines Bicycle Collective. 

State legislation that proposed establishing statewide regulations for operating e-scooters did not advance this session. 

The Street Collective presented a model ordinance in March to the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Bicycle-Pedestrian Roundtable, which is working on a final version. 

An MPO senior planner who focuses on bicycle-pedestrian planning, Sreyoshi Chakraborty, has been researching e-scooters. 
“It’s been a topic of interest for the roundtable for the past year or so; people travel to other towns and they see the scooters,” she said. “It’s anticipated they will be just one of the mix of transportation available in communities.” 

Chakraborty has spoken with officials in a number of cities, including Omaha and Cedar Rapids, to educate herself about their projects. 

“It’s been a mixed bag,” she said. “Some communities are testing out pilot projects to be proactive to see how they work and address problems upfront. I think that’s one lesson learned.” 

While dockless e-scooter systems are cheaper and more efficient for users than docked systems, the downside is that they can end up anywhere, 
Chakraborty said. “It’s been hard to enforce [compliance in returning in appropriate spots]. It’s just hard to anticipate how it will turn out.” 

Cedar Rapids is taking it slow with a hybrid e-scooter program, with a company that has a good track record, said Brandon Whyte, multimodal transportation planner with the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization. 
After putting out numerous requests for proposals and fine-tuning its program requirements, Cedar Rapids officials chose Chicago-based VeoRide to provide both a bike system and e-scooters, Whyte said. The program will include 150 e-bikes, 20 fat-tire bikes and 30 e-scooters. 

One of the big positives of VeoRide, which has focused on bike and scooter sharing programs in medium-sized cities, is that the program will be operated at no cost to the city, he said. 

The City of Five Seasons is timing the introduction of the initial 30 e-scooters with the return of Coe College students for the fall semester. 
“When we brought it to the City Council, there was some discussion and concerns about safety and scooter litter,” Whyte said. “We do expect that students will want to use the scooters more than the general public, so there’s not much loss by waiting.”  

Through the RFP selection process, “we decided we didn’t want to be a conventional dock system, nor a completely dockless system,” he said. “This will be a hybrid system where bikes are parked in specific areas, but they lock themselves,” he said. Pittsburgh, which uses such a hybrid system, has about a 95 percent compliance rate on returning bikes and e-scooters to approved locations. 

Cedar Rapids signed a three-year contract with VeoRide for it to be the exclusive shared bike and e-scooter provider for the city. The only equipment the city will own are the bicycle racks, which can also be used to park the e-scooters.  

In the downtown core, e-scooters will be allowed to operate on the same bike lanes and bike trails as bicycles, while outside of that area, users will be able to ride them on the sidewalks.  Support from the police department will be important for educating people about the rules and enforcing them initially, Whyte said. 

For now, there are no e-scooter projects on tap for Des Moines, the MPO’s Chakraborty said. 

“At this point, we are just kind of monitoring what’s going on,” she said. “We’ll watch and see what happens with the pilot projects. In general, it’s exciting because from a multimodal perspective this is another transportation option.”