By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — A key cog to the success of the revitalization of downtown is access to the area and borough officials are looking to provide another transportation option.
The Board of Mayor and Burgesses unanimously approved to enter into an agreement with Bird, a mobility company founded in 2017 and focuses on shared electric vehicles such as bicycles and scooters. The company’s operations are in over 350 cities globally, according to their website. This agreement, for e-scooters, is pending legal review by borough attorney Ned Fitzpatrick and a public safety review by the Naugatuck Police Department.
Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said he liked the interesting concept for greater mobility. There’s no cost to the borough, he added.
“Say we have a festival and there’s too much parking, we can have scooters at off-site parking lots,” Hess said at the April 5 borough board meeting.
Bird representative Jeremy Lynch said the program is app-based through a phone where the user would have to be at least 18-years-old and sign a membership agreement to be responsible for actions taken on the scooter. Users would also get an education tutorial, Lynch added.
“So the community can have their own specific rules,” Lynch said. “There can be no ride zones or areas, the operating hours, whatever you want to put into the specific rules for the community, we can do that.”
It costs $1 to access a scooter and about 49 cents per minute. A 10 minute ride would roughly cost about $6. A person can reserve the scooter for up to 20 minutes in advance and the e-scooter isn’t allowed to be ridden on the sidewalks and has to follow the rules of the road like a bicycle, according to Lynch.
The 50-pound scooters would get about 35 miles per charge and the top speed is about 15 miles per hour. The scooters are fast enough for normal bicycle traffic but not too fast to require helmets. The agreement offers insurance protection as well, according to Lynch.
“It’s a great solution for quick trips, is the way we look at it. So getting to restaurants, business or to work, those quick one mile trips, bringing access for visitors to spend money so we think of all the festivals that are happening,” Lynch said. “Those people that come to town, they can park from a further distance away and [the scooters] give them the ability to get around town without having to clog the town with a lot of other extra vehicles.”
When a person is finished riding the scooter, they have to take a picture of the scooter and upload it that person’s account for accountability purposes, Lynch said.
The company would hire locally to manage the operations through a fleet manager. The company can also create no ride zones and slow zones in a specific area. Since the vehicles are all tracked by GPS, they can create no ride zones so that if a scooter rides into one of those no ride zones, it will come to a stop and can’t be ridden, Lynch said
“It’s very customizable to what’s going on in the community and people have found that super helpful,” Lynch said.
After midnight, the scooters become unable to be ridden and wouldn’t be visible on the app. For nighttime riding, the e-scooters have two headlights on the front, a tail light that’s always illuminated and reflectors on the sides, according to Lynch.
“Over 50% of our riders report using it to visit a local business,” Lynch said. “It’s not just the ones that are close to those areas of confluence but reaching out to those areas that are a little further outside of where they’ll be able to spend money and really help those businesses, especially in this time.”
Burgess Charles P. Marenghi said it’s a great idea.
“Anytime we can bring something different in, this reduces car usage. This reduces emissions,” Marenghi said. “It’s good for a community to have options for travel purposes.”
Naugatuck Police Chief Colin McAllister said at an initial glance, it looks like a safe alternative for people to travel.
“I think it probably is a safe bet and it’s probably a legal one too for increasing access to transportation to all members of the community,” McAllister said.
The company would start with about 50 to 75 e-scooters and has launched nearly 200 programs since January of 2021 with the same number of vehicles. In the state, a Bird program is likely to begin in Ansonia in the next few weeks.
Ansonia Economic Development Director Sheila O’Malley said Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti has signed a Memorandum of Agreement in March and the town expects to receive about 50 e-scooters by the end of this month. Ansonia is expected to be the first municipality in the state using a Bird e-scooter program.
“I think it draws a lot of interest. It’s novelty,” O’Malley subsequently said. “It’s something that draws people downtown. Anything that’s going to pique someone’s interest and get them downtown is a good thing.”