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Controversy continues to swirl around e-scooters in Missoula

Posted at 9:33 AM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 11:35:55-04

MISSOULA – E-scooters are the newest form of transportation to hit streets across the country, but these devices do not come without some controversy.

Monday night’s Missoula City Council meeting proved just that with the discussion lasting nearly four hours.

The conversation focused on the definition of electronic scooters and bikes, along with talks on how fast is too fast for scooters on busy Missoula trail systems.

On top of the long meeting, all the public comments were against the idea of franchises renting out e-scooters in downtown Missoula.

The Council decided to hold out on the vote and send the topic back to committee.

MTN News talked with Missoula City Council member Jordan Hess to clarify a few of the misunderstandings from Monday nights meeting.

The vote was a motion to set up regulations in the case an e-scooter franchise wanted to rent out the devices in town.

This doesn’t mean e-scooters are coming to Missoula. It’s a possibility, but it’s not the case right now.

Despite the confusion, Hess says the vote was really to set up a framework for a few different e-scooter issues.

Many in opposition to the e-scooters talked about scooters lying around in the middle of sidewalks or being used and abused causing unneeded waste in cities that have allowed franchises to make a home on Monday.

“They litter the sidewalks, they litter the bike lanes, they litter the street and they littered everyone’s yards,” one person told the Council.

“Having people zip in and around you – and I’m sure that’s what would happen here if we get them in this community,” another citizen added.

“The e-scooter – e-anything is going to create more waste in our landfills for our children to deal with. It’s toxic,” a third person added.

But, it’s a more complex issue than just allowing a franchise to rent out scooters – residents are already using their own private electric scooters on Missoula streets – which is technically against state law.

Therefore, as Hess explained it’s an attempt to get ahead of the game and lay a foundation to manage the e-devices.

“Right now there are no rules. So, if someone comes in there is really nothing to govern what it looks like. So, there’s nothing to stop someone from coming in and dropping a lot of bikes and not maintaining them well,” Hess said.

“This is exactly the opposite. It’s an effort to create rules and actually, create a permitting process that our staff has a process by which they can evaluate the applications.”

Those in opposition also say it creates the opportunity for injuries. Many of the e-scooter system recommend, but do not require helmets.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, after analyzing 936,110 e-scooter trips between Sept. 5, 2018, and Nov. 30, 2018, there were 271 people involved in some type of e-scooter incident that resulted in an injury.

Nearly half of those hurt in e-scooter crashes sustained head injuries, 15% of which were traumatic, The CDC also said less than 1% of the riders it studied wore helmets.

These stats, along with continued public comment to the Missoula City Council are what help shape these discussions, according to Hess.

“You know, we get public sentiment through the public hearing process and then we have a more robust discussion at the committee level.”

“So, I think it’s just part of the process – it’s not anything abnormal. It’s a way to solicit feedback and go back and react to that feedback and re-tool.”

The council will continue the discussion in committee on Wednesday from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. at the Missoula City Council chambers.