A pilot program planned to bring thousands of electric scooters to the east Bronx by early July has yet to launch, with no updated start date from city transportation officials.
The e-scooter initiative stems from legislation sponsored by Democratic City Councilman Fernando Cabrera and passed by the City Council on June 25, 2020, to remove restrictions on electric scooters with top speeds under 20 mph. Cabrera’s additional piece of legislation requiring the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish a scooter-share pilot program for neighborhoods underserved by bike-share programs was passed the same day.
The pilot was supposed to launch the first week of July, according to Cabrera, who represents District 14 in the Bronx.But DOT officials did not provide a timeline or reasons for the delay to the Bronx Times other than saying it will start “soon.” And DOT did not respond to Cabrera’s request for an updated launch timeline.
The legislation states that DOT should identify the e-scooter companies for the pilot by March 1, 2021.
Timing was the biggest point of contention for the pilot, Cabrera said. Advocates wanted DOT to select scooter companies for the launch by September 2020, but DOT was dealing with the pandemic and wanted additional time, so they ultimately settled on March.
Cabrera has seen legislation pass and then be left at a standstill, and he wanted to ensure the program would be executed.
“We just wanted to make sure that it happened,” he said.
Cabrera believes the scooters are an environmentally friendly and affordable way to solve parking congestion and public transportation deserts. Parking issues have amplified in the Bronx because people are avoiding the subways with crime increasing, he said.
“This is the mode of transportation that we need right now,” he added.
In April, DOT announced Lime, Bird and Veo as the companies participating in the pilot. When contacted by the Bronx Times, all three companies deferred to DOT for a start date.
When it does eventually kick-off, the pilot plans to launch in two phases. Up to 3,000 scooters will be distributed this year to Eastchester, Wakefield, Pelham Parkway, Morris Park and Co-op City areas. Next year, the second phase will bring as many as 6,000 scooters southward, including to the Throggs Neck, Parkchester and Soundview sections of the Bronx. Both phases makeup an 18-square-mile zone that is home to 570,000 residents, including 25,000 New York City Housing Authority residents, according to DOT.
Rides will initially be restricted to the phase one boundary and the motor will shut off if a rider attempts to leave the area, DOT spokesman Brian Zumhagen said. Riders will be able to freely move between the whole zone during the second phase.
DOT estimates there will be 75 jobs for operations and maintenance to start the program, and likely more positions for outreach and administration, Zumhagen said.
Lime, Bird and Veo all agreed to hire locally, Cabrera said.
All three companies will charge $1 to unlock a scooter; Veo and Bird will charge $0.39 per minute and Lime will charge $0.30 per minute, according to DOT. New Yorkers enrolled in state and federal assistance programs will be eligible for discounted fares. Other groups, including veterans, seniors, frontline workers, teachers and people working in the performing arts, non-profit and hospitality sectors will also be eligible for discounts, depending on the scooter company.
People without smartphones can call customer service to start and end trips with Veo and text to unlock scooters with Lime.
The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities worked with DOT to ensure accessible options are also included in the program. At least 30 wheelchair accessible scooters will be available when the pilot launches and companies will adjust supply based on user feedback, Zumhagen said.
New protected bike lanes — located between sidewalks and painted buffer zones to separate car traffic — will be designated on White Plains Road and Bronxdale Avenue as part of the pilot program, according to DOT. Conventional bike lanes, which are located between car traffic and parking, are also planned for East 233rd Street and Eastchester Road this year.
Aliya Schneider is a contributor for the Bronx Times.