After a "pre-pandemic" brush with the idea, Missoula leaders had taken a back burner approach to the idea of allowing companies to offer scooters for "rent" in the Garden City. And the idea didn't make any new progress after another company expressed interest just last year.

But in recent weeks the idea of so-called "micro-mobility" seems to be having another moment in Missoula.

And that's the question of whether we should join the ranks of municipalities who've had experiences ranging from success to catastrophe during the first round of scooter adoption.

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Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo

The city has been here before

In the summer before the pandemic, Limebike, one of the fastest-growing companies in the use of electronic scooters as a transportation option came to Missoula to make their pitch. That council work session went from nervous excitement to flat-out fun, as most of the council donned helmets and began zipping around the block. Watching from the sidewalk it was hard not to see the appeal of the scooters, but also the problems, as some of the council went from caution to riding flat out in the street in a matter of minutes.

Council members go for a Limebike test drive in June 2019; Dennis Bragg photo
Council members go for a Limebike test drive in June 2019; Dennis Bragg photo

The proposal stalled there, not only because of the larger health problems just months away, but also over concern about how to write rules covering not only scooters but also the emergence of larger e-bikes, sidewalks, and conflicts with traditional two-wheel transport.

Now the scooters are back

Last year, Bird Microelectronic Mobility came to town to discuss those regulations, spurred by interest from the University of Montana, where "micro-mobility" could help with the campus parking crush.

Last month, the city council gave the green light for staff to work with the Metropolitan Planning Organization to develop a policy that might be used if one of the vendors actually applies for operation. That policy would be not only for scooters but other transportation "sharing" systems.

You'll have a chance for input

In the coming months, we expect the city will be reaching out to see what you think about the idea of having a pilot program, which is ready to go as soon as next summer.

That's the approach that was used in Portland, and it did result in a lot of useful data. But there were also horror stories, such as when riders started destroying the scooters and dumping them in the Willamette River.

Here's hoping we don't find them bobbing in the Clark Fork, and certainly the scooter vendors themselves have learned from the earlier experiments. But with Missoula's already robust network of shared-use paths, bike trails, and busy streets, it will take careful navigation. Not just to ride the scooters, but make sure it doesn't disrupt the entire system.

It's going to be an interesting discussion.

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