Fresno to start pilot plan for electric scooters. Here’s where they are restricted

A year after sending a cease-and-desist letter to an electric scooter company, the city of Fresno has entered into a six-month pilot project to allow Lime scooters in most of the city.

The pilot project is set to start in about a month, but a number of restrictions would keep the electric scooters away from college campuses and popular shopping centers.

Popular in many larger cities, e-scooters are small stand-up motorized vehicles that generally are rented on the street through a mobile app.

Councilmember Paul Caprioglio has been the most vocal opponent to allowing shared electric scooters locally, but voted to approve the program on Thursday. It was passed unanimously.

“There are more risks or problems than potential rewards,” he said, despite supporting the pilot project.

Concerns around electric scooter typically are related to safety for pedestrians as well as riders — who may not wear a helmet or who ride unsafely along cars. California code prohibits motorized scooters on sidewalks.

Lime has been implemented in cities around the world and the overwhelming majority of riders use them for trips shorter than 5 miles, according to Katie Stevens, Lime’s senior director of government relations.

She said the company has used “geo-fencing” — when the scooters are blocked from being used near specific locations — successfully in college towns. The company also looks to hire locally.

“We’re scouting warehouses as we speak,” she said. “We’re a partner that’s going to be around for the evolution of this program.”

The city’s pilot program is just a test. If it works out to the satisfaction of the City Council, a new bid would go out to scooter companies who want to set up shop.

The city of Fresno in September 2018 issued a cease-and-desist letter to Santa Monica-based company Bird Rides Inc. over scooters left around the city.

So why is Lime any different? “Lime came to us and asked permission,” Assistant City Manager Jim Schaad said. “No other providers asked.”

Along with geo-fencing prohibiting the scooter from working at Fashion Fair Mall and River Park, they will also be shut out of Fresno State, Fresno City College and Fresno Pacific University.

City staffers said the colleges and shopping center managements requested those restrictions.

The geo-fenced locations seem to be squeezing out the exact ridership who might jump on the scooters, according to Councilmember Nelson Esparza.

“I think the potential users are going to be bummed about this,” he said. “I think we got it backwards to be honest.”

Councilmember Esmeralda Soria said she’d like to see the city roll out educational efforts to encourage riders to wear helmets.

The new shared mobility companies have been met with mixed reactions in other cities, like San Francisco. And people have even been killed in crashes involving e-scooters.

Many cities banned them before reworking regulations to allow them to operate. Boston this year gave the green light for the e-scooters, and Minneapolis is allowing the fleets to expand.

Councilmember Miguel Arias said Fresno has a history of dragging its feet as it relates to new technologies like, Uber, Lyft and LED lighting.

“It seems it’s always a challenge to get people to adjust to the modern technologies of the world,” he said.

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.