Cedar Rapids wanted e-scooters to bring people downtown, not make money like other cities

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 4:43 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The city of Cedar Rapids said its goal was to bring more people downtown when it signed a contract to bring electric scooters and bikes, through a bike-share program, to Cedar Rapids. Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team found some cities make thousands of dollars from letting electric scooter companies operate.

VeoRide, a Chicago-based company, only pays the city of Cedar Rapids if it finds an advertising sponsorship. If that happens, Cedar Rapids would receive 20 percent of the profit from the advertising sponsorship.

Bill Micheel, who is the assistant community development director for Cedar Rapids, wrote in an email that another goal was also to create an environmentally friendly transportation option for shorter trips.

He said the city received different proposals from different companies and the proposal from VeoRide was the best option.

“Given the fact that the Cedar Rapids market for micro-mobility was completely untested, and Cedar Rapids has no large university located here, the contract with VeoRide was by far the best option available to us at that time,” Micheel wrote in an email.

Waterloo, which is smaller than Cedar Rapids, is making money off electric scooter companies. Its licensing program requires companies to pay $500 annually for the first two years. After the first two years, companies still wanting to operate in Waterloo pay $200 per year. Waterloo also receives five cents for each ride taken in the city.

Two companies, Bird Rides and Helbiz IA, both applied and received licenses to operate in Waterloo.

Three electric scooter companies paid the city of Columbia, Missouri, a $10,000 regulatory fee along with a $1 ridership fee for each vehicle every day. The city of Cedar Rapids paid VeoRide $65,000 to offset lost revenue from delaying putting out scooters and bikes.

Micheel wrote in an email that the benefit of the contract between VeoRide and the city of Cedar Rapids is the city isn’t responsible for ongoing operating expenses. He also wrote the city doesn’t own any equipment and has oversight over VeoRide, which Micheel views as a benefit.

“It is a point of pride for us that we are able to develop innovative opportunities for our residents, such as the bike-share program,” Micheel wrote.

Data from the city of Cedar Rapids said around 35,000 rides occurred through the bike-share program this year. Around 87,500 people rode through the bike-share program during a six-month period in 2020. That was almost a 200 percent increase from the number of rides during August.

In June, two boys under the age of 12 were injured while riding a scooter on the city’s southeast side. Officials said they hit a car on Mount Vernon Road SE and received life-threatening injuries. Although both lived, the crash sparked a conversation about safety in Cedar Rapids, since people under the age of 18 are not allowed to ride a scooter. The city of Cedar Rapids said it was looking into ways to make sure people riding the scooters were at least 18-years-old.

Data from the city of Cedar Rapids said people reported scooter accidents or falls around 32 times since 2020. Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids said on Tuesday, electric scooters are increasing traumatic injuries. VEO told TV9 in June the company pulls about six scooters every week out of a local river. A 16-year-old boy was charged and arrested with fifth-degree criminal mischief after police said he threw a scooter into the river.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department also cited 17 people in an hour for riding scooters, bikes, and skateboards on the sidewalks, a $600 fine. Diane Drahos, who lives in Cedar Rapids, said the electronic scooters on the sidewalk make it harder for her to walk the city because she has a walker.

“I can’t kinda get around, and I’m afraid of falling down,” Drahos said. “Because if I have to go on the grass or uneven ground, I have a great disability and I might slip and fall.”

Drahos said she believes the city of Cedar Rapids could use their dollars better than paying money to electric scooter companies.

“Why aren’t we not trying to help out our needy people that really need the help here?” Drahos said. “Instead of bringing scooters, that’s not doing any good and just making an eyesore.”

However, not everyone thinks electronic scooters and bikes are an eyesore for the city. Younger people, like Andrew Wirth from Vinton, really like having the scooters around town. He said they look like a lot of fun.

“You don’t have to walk anywhere,” Wirth said. “It’s something you and all your friends can pay for, hop on and go have a good time around the city.”

He also said the electronic scooters and bikes are amenities he’ll look for when choosing a city to work and live.

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