A representative from Zagster met with city and University of Central Arkansas officials on campus April 11 to discuss the possibility of launching an e-scooter pilot program here in Conway.
The city of Conway began its partnership with Zagster in 2016, when city council members voted to enter into a three-year agreement with the smart bike rental company for $36,000 per year, $108,000 total.
Since then, Conway has become a more bike-friendly community through education initiatives and pushes for safer passages.
UCA jumped on the bandwagon in April 2018 by adding its own additional bike racks through Zagster, falling under the city’s bike-sharing initiative.
A group gathered together on campus last Thursday to discuss the e-scooter possibilities including Mayor Bart Castleberry, city spokesman Bobby M. Kelly III, City Engineer and Transportation Director Finley Vinson, UCA President Houston Davis, UCA Student Government Association representative Spencer Burtin, Zagster’s Bradley Ericson, Professor Peter Mehl with Conway Advocates for Biking and Erik Leamon, owner of The Ride.
“There are two things that have driven this conversation,” Vinson said. “Simultaneously, one is the students have been approaching Spencer with interest and then the other thing is Zagster simultaneously approached me with interest in coming to Conway.”
The city employee told the room what the micro-mobility company is asking Conway for is to be able to amend its current contract to make the company Conway’s exclusive mobility partner.
“What that does for us is it allows us to structure and regulate the program to make sure that it fits our needs,” Vinson said, adding that so far, Conway has been happy with the partnership.
He said if the city were to move forward with the e-scooter idea, it would be beneficial not only working with one company instead of several, but also to have complete regulatory control to implement the plan the way officials wanted to do it.
“There are some things about this that are very attractive I think and some things about it that are concerning,” he told the group. “I think our job is to decide if the benefits outweigh the costs.”
Some of the concerns that the group of officials offered were speed regulations, pedestrian safety, lack of health benefits like the current bike-sharing program offers and others to the liking.
“One thing you can’t brag about e-scooters that you still can brag about with e-bikes and bikes and regular scooters is that they’re healthy,” Mehl said. “E-scooters take that brag point out, don’t they. You hop on it and go. Doesn’t provide any health benefit.”
Vinson said he thought the two — the bikes Conway currently has and the e-scooters — could work together in a way that still promotes healthy activity but also provides transportation as well.
“I’ve always desired the bike share systems become not just for recreational use but a translation system for the citizens of Conway,” he said. “I think this will help that.”
As far as speed — and additional safety issues going with that — was concerned, Ericson said MPH could be controlled through Geo monitoring, maintaining higher speeds in specific areas and lower ones in more restricted sites like sidewalks.
“I think it would be very important to promote helmet use,” Vinson said. “Those are the costs that, again, we have to decide if the benefits outweigh.”
He said regardless of what the city of UCA does, Conway wants “Zagster to be in the room” and to be the ones controlling that conversation.
President Davis pointed out that there was “no doubt” some interest from UCA’s student body and asked SGA’s Burtin whether he had a Razor scooter growing up, to which he replied yes.
“They all grew up with them,” Davis said. “You get on one of these and you feel like you’re in the wind with a Razor Scooter like when you’re a kid. I get that, but it really is … it’s the pedestrian nature of the sidewalks on campus. It’s the having to scatter around all over the place, stories.”
While it did seem like many of those issues could be mitigated, the UCA president said that he thought they would have to have a “pretty rock solid” plan to move forward.
“That’s how we’re really thinking about this … I think there’s more to talk about here and get everybody’s input and build some coalition of supports for scooters but what would be exciting is to develop some shorter term pilot in 2019,” Ericson told the group.
Castleberry pointed out in the past, Conway has some terrible sidewalk infrastructure, a task the city is about to take on and at some point in the future, Conway is going to be “very well prepared for this,” but to say that we’re ready to today … “we’re not.”
Davis added that with the bike-sharing initiative, Conway was positioned nicely for the program when it came.
“There has to be probably some real thought about, ‘well, are we a scooter-friendly community?’” he said.
Castleberry pointed out that his generation, himself included, will keep cycling but admitted the conversation about e-scooters and other electronic products in the future needed to be had.
“We have a whole generation coming up … this is what they’re going to look for,” he said. "We’re a young city."