Scooters arrived this summer in Minneapolis and St. Paul much later than in previous years due to COVID-19, and officials in both cities wondered if there'd be much demand.
Turns out, there's quite a bit. People like Rayn Nachreiner, who took her first scooter ride ever, have been hopping onboard.
"It was a fun experience," said Nachreiner, who recently joined a friend for a 60-minute cruise around Minneapolis on a Bird scooter. "I'm definitely going to use them again in the near future."
Nachreiner said she would like Bird to ship scooters to her hometown of New Ulm in southern Minnesota. That's not in the works, but a Bird spokeswoman said last week that it will be expanding its fleet in Minneapolis and soon bring 500 of its electric vehicles to St. Paul.
Once Bird arrives in St. Paul, the Capital City will have two scooter providers. Lime launched in St. Paul in mid-July with 500 scooters, and demand has been so strong that the company plans to add 200 more. In Lime's first five weeks on the street, St. Paul riders made 61,000 trips, compared with 54,600 trips made between July 15 and Aug. 15 last year, said Lime spokesman Lee Foley.
"We are happy with what we are seeing," said Reuben Collins, a St. Paul transportation engineer. With scooter riders making up to 2,000 trips a day, he said, scooters "serve an important function for the city."
After a slow start in Minneapolis, ridership there is trending upward. Lyft and Bird have about 1,050 scooters on the streets, and as of last week, riders had taken 56,820 trips since the scooter season began about a month ago, said Jacob Brown, who works in the city's Public Works Department and oversees the city's scooter program.
"That's stronger than anticipated," he said. With many people working at home and fewer tourists in town this year, he added, "not knowing what to expect was the scariest thing. It was a nail-biter for a while. We are happy to see people using them."
Brown said companies collectively plan to deploy 250 to 300 more scooters in the coming week to meet demand. They may be needed, since the data show that scooter users are going for longer rides.
In Minneapolis, the average ride is lasting more than 20 minutes this year compared with an average of 13 minutes last year. Lime officials say trip duration in St. Paul is 40% longer this year than in 2019.
With COVID-19, "we are seeing a change in commute patterns," said Blanca LaBorde, Bird's senior manager of government relations. "People are seeing micro-mobility as a viable option to fill in gaps where transit is not running as often or at all."
Riders use an app to pay $1 to check out a scooter, and pay 25 to 40 cents a minute depending on the company. Bird will offer schoolteachers two free, 30-minute rides a day during September.
"People are seeing scooters as a safe and affordable way to get around," Lime's Foley said.
Overnight work on I-94
Late-night drivers on westbound Interstate 94 in Minneapolis could experience longer travel times this week as the Minnesota Department of Transportation performs bridge maintenance.
The freeway will be reduced to two lanes from 7 to 10 p.m. and one lane from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Friday between Riverside and Franklin avenues. Ramps from westbound I-94 to Cedar and Riverside avenues also will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
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