FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Inside Indiana Business) – About five years after they hit the market, several Hoosier cities are pressing the brake on electric scooters, while others are building infrastructure to better accommodate the rapidly growing transportation alternative.
The scooters are known as the “last mile” and “micro-mobilty” option. This means they’re not exactly public transportation like taking the bus or a ride share service like Uber or Lyft, but they provide residents with an option to get where they need to go fast and if it’s within a short distance.
However, this transportation option has been a prime instigator of public attention. Common complaints include the blockage of sidewalks, inappropriate rider behavior and improperly parked scooters. Some called them eye sores while others tell stories of bad behavior witnessed.
The city of Fort Wayne announced Aug. 8 that it terminated its contract with Santa Monica, California-based Veo, meaning all e-scooters and seated scooters must be removed from the city before Sept. 4. Just over a week later, the city rejected Veo’s appeal to the decision. The company was the only scooter brand in the city’s market.
Meanwhile, Bloomington has added new scooter corrals, geofencing and other requirements to better enforce good rider behavior and limit complaints and dangerous situations.
Riders in several cities say the scooters have filled a critical gap in public transportation. Some say they’ve been able to discover new areas and venture into neighborhoods and parks they other would not have ever seen on foot. Many said they often rely on the technology.
Olivia Ortega, policy and partnerships manager for Veo, said it’s the company’s belief that there needs to be more affordable and sustainable transportation options, which is central to the company’s mission. People use their scooters for all types of purposes, she said, mentioning sightseeing, getting to and from work, and running errands.
“It’s all about access,” she said
Concerns regarding ADA access, misuse of scooters and blocked access are also held by Veo, she said. However, she said that is why the company has local representatives to find solutions and ways to reach riders to encourage safe and appropriate behavior.
“We always want to have come with our best-faith efforts to work with cities and try to address any concerns that they have, that specifically impact our program and the safety of our program,” she said. “Our goal is to have a strong partnership there with every city that we work with, and also to help shape the
Fort Wayne ending its ride
The scooters first arrived in the northern Indiana city in 2019 for a pilot program, which dropped off about 300 e-scooters and 150 pedal bikes. The city said it hoped to increase micro-mobility transportation options and promote travel to businesses and tourist destinations. The program later expanded in 2022 and shifted from pedal bikes to seated scooters in 2023.
“We thought this was going to be a win-win for everyone involved,” city spokesperson John Perlich said. “It started out strong, and but just over time, we started to see some challenges and difficulties.”
The announcement cited that residents and business owners have raised safety and proper usage concerns regarding “some riders using scooters recklessly and negligently.” The city said the decision was also made in part with research about shared mobility programs around the state and elsewhere. Perlich mentioned police dealing with teenagers using them incorrectly and tire marks on new pavement.
“Just a compilation of things,” Perlich said. “It just reached the point where the mayor and our legal staff, public safety division, in consultation with a lot of people who interact with the scooters on a daily basis, this was the decision that we made.”
Perlich said the city feels strongly that city administration and the right of way department provided ample communication throughout the process. He said they now want to move forward from the ordeal.
Ortega said the company was disappointed to learn of the city’s decision and that they were given no notice. The permit was supposed to run through the end of the year, and she said they had planned on a long-term relationship with the city.
She said they had often met with and called the police department to mitigate concerns. The concern she said was most apparent was the scooters allowed large groups of young people to collect downtown in the evening and disrupt other people and families. In response, she said they implemented a curfew and new no-ride zones in certain parts of downtown and its parks in July. After that, she said they didn’t hear from the city or police until lawyers sent the termination notice.
“The concerns that we’ve heard and the only concerns that we’ve heard came from the police department earlier in the summer,” Ortega said. “It wasn’t specifically about the safety of the scooters or anything like that. I think their concern had to do with the fact that there were a lot of young people gathering downtown in the evenings.”
She said they haven’t received any indication or much reasoning from the city for why the decision was made.
“We weren’t able to engage with Fort Wayne in that level of conversation because of sort of the limited interaction that we were having with the city about the type of program that they wanted to see there,” she said.
Announcement of the decision spurred Veo and many residents to push back, resulting in hundreds of letters, emails and social media comments. The scooter company urged residents to attend an Aug. 22 city council meeting and write letters to the mayor’s office. Its website said over 450 people have mailed letters.
The city has valued the public’s feedback, Perlich said, and the city received more emails in support of Veo than against. However, he said it’s difficult to sort which emails were sent by residents since many used a template Veo provided.
A visually impaired Fort Wayne resident is currently suing the city of Fort Wayne and Veo for damages after he alleged a scooter was left improperly in a river walkway, which caused him to trip, fall and be injured, according to the initial complaint. The suit also alleges the two parties did not properly study the technology’s risk or impart adequate protocols.
“Users are supposed to “properly park” the bike or scooter at the end of the ride, but Veo and City know users do not do this,” the lawsuit reads. “Instead, Veo’s scooters are scattered about and create dangerous tripping hazards especially to the City’s visually impaired citizens who are entitled to use the City’s public walks, trails, and greenways.”
Both the city and Veo deny several and most of the allegations. All parties were ordered to mediation prior to a pretrial hearing next February.
Perlich said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation. Veo said in a statement that the safety of riders and pedestrians is its top priority. The company, too, said it cannot speak on ongoing legal matters.
The news release said no tax dollars were spent on the project. However, Perlich could not confirm if funds were used to fix damage or other related costs caused by the scooters. Veo was responsible for all equipment used in the city.
After the appeal, Veo said in a statement to Inside INdiana Business that it plans to relocate the Fort Wayne fleet to nearby Bloomington and Toledo, Ohio, which the company said has strong demand.
Bloomington cautiously pressing the pedal
Scooters have perched on street corners in Bloomington for about four years. Adam Wason, Bloomington’s director of public works, compared their arrival to the city as a “disruptive technology” similar to Uber. There were no conversations or agreement prior to the city finding this new technology implemented there, he said. About a year later was when they finally were able to put an ordinance on the books.
Now, he said the city is attempting to have a better handle on scooter parking and safety measures. Through this process, the city has worked with companies, city administration and Indiana University.
“I would freely admit we as a city haven’t done a good enough job holding the scooter companies accountable mostly in the areas of scooter parking,” Wason said. “And we’re now trying to get a much better handle that as we move forward with the new licensing applications and contracts with the companies.”
Bloomington has installed 60 scooter parking corrals over the last month throughout downtown, and the companies will require trips to start and end at those locations using geofencing. The corrals use delineators, parking blocks and a bit of paint to designate such areas. They chose areas with extra curb room not to create line-of-sight issues. He estimated the project cost about $45,000, which was sourced from scooter companies’ licensing contracts.
“We’re hoping that has a major impact on things like blocked sidewalks or blocked ADA ramps,” Wason said. “We’re really hopeful for that.”
Wason also said they have deployed new education, signage and scooter stickers encouraging proper use to combat other issues. The city is also working with the companies on geofencing, so riding on sidewalks is prohibited.
Three scooter companies, Bird, Lime and Veo, are in the process of gaining approval for new licenses from the city this week. One of the three Board of Public Works members dissented and voted no for each license; the votes still passed 2-1.
“I’m going to say my concerns and frustrations remain and color my vote on this matter,” Board Secretary Jennifer Lloyd said during an Aug. 29 meeting.
Last year, Bloomington made headlines when two IU students were hit and killed by cars while riding scooters near campus. One of which was a freshman who was killed by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run last September. The woman was arrested in connection with his death, and the family is suing her and the bar that served her in a wrongful death lawsuit. The city then announced a slew of new requirements and curtailments.
The city and local police departments have reported several injuries stemming from riding the scooters as well. The city also has an online reporting system where residents can report close calls, incidents or violations caused by scooter users.
Despite some of the issues, he said the scooters have been beneficial to people without cars, needing a way to and from work and getting home from the bus stop.
“It’s had pros and cons,” Wason said. “I think city administration and staff would argue the pros have outweighed the cons overall.”
Ortega said it has been great working with the city of Bloomington and applauds the city’s move to create infrastructure like corrals for micro-mobility. She addresses the serious and significant safety concerns tied to the scooters in the city over the past year and said the company and the city have taken steps to reform and respond to provide a better program.
The city recently amended its curfew to allow seated scooters, but not stand-ups, to be used at night. Ortega said the company has preliminary data showing those vehicles report less incidents than the trademark stand-up scooters.
“Bloomington, to its credit, is trying to lead the way in some of that by allowing access to both types of vehicles,” she said of seated and stand-up scooter options.
Some Hoosier cities in park, others in neutral
Multiple other cities in the state have jumped or dipped its toe into the scooter game. Indianapolis has a significant fleet with at least three companies launched in the city. West Lafayette recently welcomed Veo to Purdue University’s campus earlier this year. Evansville also has a fleet and ordinance policing usage.
Fort Wayne also highlighted in their release steps other Indiana cities have taken to layer ordinances or ban e-scooters. It listed Columbus and Carmel as cities that prohibit them, and Elkhart as a place where the technology was launched but was eventually pulled or folded. It also mentioned Bloomington’s and South Bend’s contract negotiations, which could add more red tape and cost to the agreements.
Perlich said the city thought it was important to tell its community about challenges other cities have had and how Fort Wayne is not alone in that.
“There have been some challenges and other communities as well,” he said. “We weren’t just having a knee jerk reaction here in Fort Wayne.”