A California-based electric scooter company has applied for a business license in Missoula, although the company says they have no immediate plans to operate here.
Bird was founded last year in Santa Monica, and its pink and black, battery-powered dockless scooters are unlocked with a mobile phone app and cost 15 or 20 cents a minute to operate. A rider can leave them anywhere, and company workers recharge them overnight and place them on sidewalks. In places like Los Angeles, where vehicle traffic is often gridlocked, the scooters have proven popular as a cheaper, quicker and less-polluting option.
The Missoulian reached out to the company for more specific information on its plans in Missoula and received an email from the communications department.
"Bird has no expansion plans to announce at this time, but we believe Missoula would be a great place to provide our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option," the email read. "We hope to collaborate with city officials to bring Bird's service to the area in the future."
Aaron Wilson, the city's transportation planning manager, said his office hasn't had serious talks with Bird yet, but they would have to study the feasibility in Missoula, where snow and ice accumulate in the streets in winter.
"Scooters are definitely on our radar," Wilson said.
Casey Dunning is the executive director of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative, a nonprofit that works with people undergoing financial hardship and those with barriers to employment and services. He said there's a large portion of people in Missoula who don't own a car. That means they have trouble commuting to work, dropping children off at appointments or childcare, going grocery shopping and completing other daily tasks those with vehicles take for granted.
"A lack of reliable transportation is a huge barrier," he explained. "If someone has to buy a cheap car, it's often of very poor quality and that means a lot of repair expenses."
Missoula's Mountain Line bus system is free for all riders, but Dunning said riders are limited by the bus schedule and routes. A worker might have to get off a long way from a home or employment, and if they are disabled in any way or have young children even a small commute becomes much more difficult.
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"The free bus system is great, don't get me wrong, but I wouldn't say it's completely adequate for everyone, especially if their child's daycare is across town from where they work, for example," he said.
Dunning said electric scooters might help some people bridge that gap.
"As long as there is equitable access," he explained.
Jordan Hess, the director of the Associated Students of the University of Montana's Office of Transportation, said his office is "excited about and carefully reviewing" the new trends in dockless shared mobility. Parking is a constant headache at the UM campus, he noted.
"I think dockless bike-share can be a great asset to our community by providing point-to-point transportation options that help UM manage its limited parking supply while simultaneously helping our community meet its mode split goals," he said, referring to resources split between different modes of transportation.
Last year, the dockless bike company Lime said it was in discussions with city leaders to bring shared bikes to town, but the company has been quiet about plans since then.
"We continue to speak to Lime and other vendors," Hess explained. "My approach on campus has been to be cautious about launching a new service so that we can make sure it works well on campus. My goal is to establish a relationship with a vendor who will work with ASUM to provide meaningful transportation options to UM students with proper regulations and safeguards."
In Los Angeles and other cities, the scooters are illegal to ride on sidewalks, although those laws are often ignored. Places like Seattle have outlawed e-scooters due to safety concerns. San Francisco is undertaking a comprehensive study to collect transportation injury data to determine whether scooters are safe.