Pensacola’s long-discussed micro-mobility pilot program to bring electric scooters downtown will take another discussion or two before becoming a reality.
Previously projected to get rolling in April or May, the City of Pensacola paused the process amid the coronavirus pandemic. In mid February, a city selection committee recommended two micro-mobility companies — Bird and VeoRide — and began working to solidify licensing and operating permits with those vendors.
But an operating agreement was never put into place, and the proposed pilot program took a backseat to the city’s all-hands-on-deck approach to handling the pandemic by the middle of March.
City spokeswoman Kaycee Lagarde shared a statement from the city Tuesday that confirms the eventual arrival of the two previously selected companies, but the timeline for that arrival is still unclear.
“Like many of our residents, we are looking forward to launching our micro-mobility pilot program to provide more multi-modal transportation options in the City of Pensacola,” the statement read. “We are working with the two selected companies to finalize the operating agreements and ensure they have plans in place to operate as safely as possible considering the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect to move the pilot program forward once the city and micro-mobility companies are confident that we can do so in a safe manner for our residents and visitors.”
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Both Bird and VeoRide told the News Journal Monday that they are still very much looking forward to bringing their e-scooters to Pensacola.
In Bird’s case, the company said there has been some communication between it and the city. But the Chicago-based VeoRide said talks have been at a standstill for months now.
“There’s hasn’t been a lot of communication as they are trying to figure things out,” said Amy Hesser, director of communications for VeoRide. “Not just the pandemic, but I think there are all sorts of delays that can come up in any discussions like these. But we pride ourselves at Veo on being great partners to work with, and we are here to work with the city and city council to move this forward, even with the unexpected delays.”
Bird, headquartered in Santa Monica, California, said in an email statement Monday that it believes e-scooters are a safe mode of transportation, even during the pandemic, so it is ready to put its wheels on the ground in Pensacola as soon as the city gives it the green light.
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“Bird has been in continuous contact with the city of Pensacola to get scooters on the ground since COVID-19 came to the area. The COVID-19 pandemic is undeniably affecting countless people on a global scale and Bird understands the importance of micromobility at this time,” the statement read. “People need a safe way to get around while maintaining appropriate social distance to take essential trips to their jobs as front line workers or to deliver food and groceries. Local residents are being hit hard by the economic impact of COVID-19 and need a reliable and affordable transportation service, such as e-scooters.”
A number of factors went into choosing the companies to operate during the pilot program, including their emphasis on safety, their ability to get insurance and their experience level, among other qualifications.
City Administrator Keith Wilkins told the News Journal in February that he envisioned the city designating some property, possibly in the way of a parking space, as a corral for the two companies. He said private corrals in the parking lots or alleys near places such as breweries could work as well.
“We’re not predetermining any of that because we really want to figure out what the market is going to support and not support,” Wilkins said. “We really want the market flexibility for the companies for it to succeed and for us to learn.”
The vendors will be required to pick up the scooters at night to get them off the sidewalks and redeploy them in the mornings. That way, the scooters can be reorganized and recharged, and much of the chance for users operating them while intoxicated can be avoided.
Once the pilot program wraps up, Wilkins said, he wasn’t sure the city would limit shared scooter service to just two companies. But the council would make a decision whether to open it up to everyone if they met certain criteria, namely insurance and safety, or to limit it to a set number of vendors.
“We wanted a strong emphasis on the marketability and the market development, of which we know nothing. So we wanted more than one company to come in so we could get multiple perspectives on how to develop the market,” Wilkins said.
Jake Newby can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8538.