Two-wheeled electric scooters that rolled onto the streets of the Twin Cities this summer will take shelter from the Minnesota winter and go into hibernation.
Minneapolis and St. Paul officials say the scooters have quickly become an alternative mode of transportation for thousands of people, many of whom became regular scooter riders. They have also created a side business of “juicers,” people who collect the scooters each night and charge their batteries.
“We definitely see it as a success in terms of how scooters have been able to be positioned as a real viable transportation option for people,” said Josh Johnson, Minneapolis’ assistant parking systems manager.
“The scooters were used, they were well-received by residents and visitors,” said Lisa Hiebert, St. Paul’s public works department spokeswoman. “As a new mode of micro-transportation to our community, we continue to work with scooter vendors to educate riders about proper riding rules, and including not riding on the sidewalks.”
The cities scrambled to set up regulations for Bird Rides Inc. and Lime after they flooded the streets with hundreds of scooters without notice in the summer.
As soon as Bird and Lime placed their scooters in Minneapolis, officials created a license program for the operators that allowed a total of 400 electric scooters from both companies in the four-month pilot program that started in August.
“We saw this as an opportunity rather than a threat and that we really wanted to be collaborative with both companies,” Johnson said.
The debut of scooters in St. Paul was considerably more troublesome. In July, St. Paul officials ordered Bird to remove its scooters from sidewalks until the City Council approved a temporary licensing program. It eventually allowed up to 300 scooters.
“We were caught off guard initially by Bird scooters showing up,” said Russ Stark, St. Paul’s chief resilience officer. “We’re just going to evaluate everything that has happened so far and figure out what’s best for St. Paul moving forward.”
The city has put together a scooter working group that will analyze data collected from users that will guide policymakers about what to do with scooters next year. Hiebert said they will likely create a mobility ordinance that will address new modes of technology and transportation, such as electric bicycles and scooters.
Lime said users have taken more than 200,000 rides in the Twin Cities.
“This initial pilot clearly demonstrated that the Twin Cities is a community where our scooters and bikes are filling a critical need, connecting riders to public transportation and decreasing their reliance on personal vehicles,” said Eric Kocaja, Lime’s general manager for the Twin Cities.
Bird Rides Inc. did not provide ridership data.
Initially, officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul said they would remove scooters found unattended and blocking traffic or compromising public safety. But the scooter vendors have complied with city rules and resolved complaints within the required two hours, they said.
As riders used the scooters for trips during the day, a new evening gig sprung up for juicers. Working as independent contractors to the scooter companies, they collect scooters, recharge them and return them to designated locations early in the morning. They’re paid about $5 a scooter.
On a rainy night in early October, Steve Janisch, a graphic designer by day, left his apartment in Uptown Minneapolis where scooter chargers compete for space with his two cats. He then started hunting for scooters.
“I think it’s a fun little job,” he said. “I’m just cruising around the neighborhood. I really do feel it’s more profitable than a lot of little side hustles.”
Janisch says looking for scooters at night is a competition with other juicers. In an hour, he picked up seven scooters and placed them at the back of his Toyota Prius. On any given month, Janisch said he makes about $600.
“It gives you what you put in,” he added. “You’re never disappointing anybody if you just take a couple of days off. You just don’t get money then.”
When the first snow fell, Janisch stopped picking up scooters. “It was a fun summer,” he said.
Officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul say they don’t know of any major injuries or accidents involving scooters. Still, it’s not without risk.
Josh Anderson, an employee of the University of Minnesota, was scooting around campus in August when he tried to go up onto a sidewalk. “The scooter stopped; I did not stop,” he said. “I fell on my arms and my hands. My left wrist swelled up and it hurt a lot.”
He grabbed the scooter with one hand and rode it to the urgent care at the Boynton Health Service. His arm was sprained.
“I feel super unsafe on them now,” he said. “I know how fast something can change. A bump … in the road or steering the wrong way. I just stopped using them.”