Rentable electric scooters, bikes could be on their way to Overland Park

Overland Park is moving ahead with the creation of a framework to allow electric scooters and bikes that can be rented using mobile apps on its streets. Photo credit Mark McGuire. Used under a Creative Commons license.

The electric scooters that have become ubiquitous in downtown Kansas City may be on their way to Overland Park in the not too distant future. The city’s staff got the go-ahead Wednesday night to come up with a framework for how the city would regulate the scooters and bikes that, in better weather, can be found on downtown Kansas City street corners.

One of Lime’s electronic bikes. Photo credit Elvert Barnes. Used under a Creative Commons License.

The electric motor-powered vehicles offered through private companies – Bird and Lime – have proved a popular way for taking short trips through downtown. The scooters are the most visible, but electric-powered bicycles were also introduced not long before the weather turned cold.

Overland Park is considering them as an extension to public transit. City officials asked Toole Design, which developed the city’s Bike Master Plan, to dive into the details of the vehicle sharing services.

Toole’s presentation to the city council’s public works committee recommended moving forward with the idea, but finding just the right way to do it is still a work in progress. Committee members were generally supportive, but cautioned that the city will have to pay close attention to the details.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen something come before us where the definition of devil in the details is more than this one,” said committee chairman Fred Spears.

There will be a docking station for one of the pilot programs near the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center

For one thing, the business is rapidly changing. The study was originally to be about bicycle sharing, but some of the major companies have since begun to gravitate towards electric vehicles. As a result, the motor-powered vehicles are now included as a possibility for Overland Park.

The type of vehicle sharing in question is “dockless,” meaning the scooters and bikes can be picked up and dropped off anywhere. Another program, in which the bikes have to be checked into docking stations, will be tried out by Johnson County and Olathe, with stations near the Heritage Museum and Meadowbrook Park.

Support but advice for caution from councilmembers

Committee members were supportive of the idea. “It’s something I think the public wants,” said Councilmember John Thompson. But they had some cautions for staffers who will begin looking into the idea.

Thompson mentioned the potential for clutter and safety of the riders, for instance. Councilmember Logan Heley mentioned the process for gathering and replacing abandoned vehicles, which has been done by individuals on commission in other cities.

Consultants recommended making the bulk of the rentable vehicles available in the northern part of the city.

“What I don’t want are a bunch of scooters jammed in someone’s open trunk with one dragging. Which I’ve seen,” he said.

Another big challenge is that scooters are not legal to ride on Kansas streets. However there’s a bill making its way through the statehouse that could change that, committee members were told.

The consultant checked how vehicle sharing programs have worked in other cities and came away with several preliminary recommendations. For instance, although there’s no direct cost for dockless programs, cities often end up spending staff time administering them. Toole recommended a flat application fee to vendors and per-trip surcharge to handle those costs.

The consultant also had some other recommendations:

  • The city should start with a six-month pilot program to try it out.
  • There should be up to four vendors, with fleets of 100-400 bikes and 50-100 scooters per vendor.
  • A 15-mile-per-hour speed limit was recommended.
  • Sixty percent of vehicles should be available north of 135th Street and 5 percent available north of west 75th Street. That’s because there are more people in those areas with limited transportation options.
  • Heley said he’d like to see more done to encourage use in areas where there are more households without a car. He suggested partnering with the schools.
  • The committee discussed those recommendations and sent the idea back for further development.