Electric slide: VeoRide set to bring out new bikes, with scooters a possibility


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CHAMPAIGN — Less than a year after VeoRide's turquoise bikes started showing up on campus, the Champaign City Council is about to consider whether to renew the dockless-bike-sharing program for another year, and whether electric scooters are next.

The company recently announced it has designed an electric scooter with a swappable battery that would soon be available in Texas, Alabama and Tennessee.

"We would love to bring them," said Ben Thomas, VeoRide's general manager of the Champaign-Urbana fleet. "We're in the process of talking about what that would actually look like."

Ben LeRoy, associate planner for the city of Champaign, said the scooter issue will be introduced at Tuesday's council study session about renewing the bikes.

"We're basically asking council, 'Are you interested in hearing a future study session on scooters?'" LeRoy said. "If so, we would prepare that after we finalize renewal. It'd be sometime after July 1."

Electric scooters have popped up in the past year in cities around the country, such as Indianapolis, where those from companies Bird and Lime can be found all around downtown.

The Indianapolis City-County Council passed regulations in July 2018 for the scooters, city spokeswoman Brandi Pahl said.

"Since then, the city has been constantly evaluating the scooter situation and discussing future possible regulations," she said in an email. "We believe a growing, thriving city should have a variety of transportation options for residents and will continue to work with Bird, Lime and any other companies that choose to do business in Indianapolis."

Bird, which launched in September 2017 and offers only scooters, already had 10 million rides after its first year in business and is in more than 100 cities around the world.

Most companies charge a dollar to unlock the scooter and 15 cents per minute after that. The scooters are unlocked by scanning a QR code near the handlbars and have an electric motor.

VeoRide's scooters have built-in sensors that can automatically start the motor and press the brakes if needed, said the company, which can also set the maximum speed to whatever a community requests.

In Urbana, city planner Kevin Garcia said there has not yet been discussion about the scooters.

"But on the staff level, we know it's something that there is a demand for, so we'll probably need to have some discussions about that in the coming months," he said.

Besides scooters, VeoRide is planning to introduce electric bikes to Champaign-Urbana. Unlike the scooters, these won't need further approval by the community and are set to be introduced next month.

"The plan currently is to have them deployed after spring break," Thomas said.

The electric bike still requires pedaling, but the motor will kick in when a rider starts pedaling. This can be especially useful when riding uphill, for example.

They have a maximum speed of 18 mph, Thomas said.

Champaign-Urbana will be VeoRide's third market with the electric bikes, after one in Kansas and another in Arkansas.

The intergovernmental agreement that created the license for dockless bike sharing allowed for electric versions, so they don't need to be approved separately, LeRoy said.

"They'll take out some of their non-electric bikes and replace them with electric ones," LeRoy said.

The dockless-bike-sharing agreement only lasts for one year, so Champaign, Urbana and the University of Illinois have to decide whether to renew the program.

The license allows companies to operate a fleet of up to 500 shareable bikes.

So far, VeoRide has been the only company to apply for a license, though LeRoy said a couple others have recently expressed interest.

The planning department's report will recommend that the council renew the program.

"The staff recommendation is that we continue the program for another year," LeRoy said. "It isn't recommending any specific changes. We're going to share some options."

One of those options would be to change the cap of 500 bikes per company.

"They might say, this is going well, so let's increase the fleet cap, or they might say, with multiple companies potentially coming, they might be hesitant," LeRoy said.

VeoRide's Thomas said he'd like to see the cap increase.

"I'm hoping that gets passed," he said.

And while LeRoy said there was a learning curve after VeoRide launched in September, he's generally been pleased with the bikes.

"I think they integrated well into the community," LeRoy said. "Not perfectly, but we're pretty pleased."

He said the city used to receive one to three comments about the bikes per week when they first launched, and that has declined since.

"That has declined as citizens have become more familiar with what is and isn't properly parked and more familiar with how to contact the company," LeRoy said.

When bikes are parked improperly, such as blocking a sidewalk or in a roadway, people are supposed to call VeoRide.

Thomas said the company hasn't received any complaints recently about bikes being improperly parked on private property.

"I haven't had any complaints since November about, 'Hey, get this off my property or off my business,'" Thomas said.

He'd certainly like to see the program renewed, as Champaign-Urbana is the company's top market.

"We're extremely happy with how things have gone," Thomas said. "We've done over 165,000 rides, just here locally, since Sept. 1."

That includes 15,000 unique riders, he said.

Ridership has dipped during the winter, he said.

"It's been a rough winter so far." But, he said, "if it's a decent day and the snow's melted, ridership goes back up."

While a date hasn't been set to discuss renewal of the program in Urbana, Garcia said that so far, he considers it successful.

"There were some concerns before the bike-share launched, but I think most of those really haven't happened," Garcia said. "There haven't been big piles laying haphazardly in places, and the company's been very responsive when bikes have been parked improperly."