Electronic Bikes, Scooters Set for Providence Return

Electric scooters have returned. The city allowed Spin to rent 175 dockless e-scooters. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Electric scooters have returned. The city allowed Spin to rent 175 dockless e-scooters. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Before the service was suspended, the JUMP bike-share program was considered a diversity success.

“It was great seeing people of all races, ages, genders, sizes all over the city riding these bikes,” Julian Drix said during a recent meeting of the city’s Environmental Sustainability Task Force.

Drix and other members of the citizen advisory board agreed that the ubiquitous, red electric bicycles, introduced last September, were embraced across the city by people of all races and backgrounds.

JUMP launched the services with 400 pedal-assist e-bikes but increased the number to 1,100 last April, and the bicycles were seen operating across the city. Service was suspended, however, on Aug. 23, after locks on the bikes were intentionally damaged, allowing riders to use the bikes without payment. In a statement, JUMP said it also halted service over safety concerns for field technicians.

But Drix and fellow task force members believed the images in the media of gangs of bikers riding the streets and committing crimes appeared to demonize residents of color.

JUMP also removed its bikes from Atlanta, Dallas, San Antonio, and Staten Island, N.Y., for a variety of reasons that appear mostly related to permitting and other administrative complications.

The bikes, however, are coming back. According to Leah Bamberger, the city’s director of sustainability, once the locking systems are more secure, JUMP, a division of Uber, will resume its Providence operation.

At least one of the corporate sponsors, Lifespan, intends to continue its contract with the service.

“This has been very successful in other markets across the country. We remain supportive of the concept and will continue to collaborate with JUMP management as it works toward solutions that ensure the safe and proper use of its bikes,” according to Lifespan.

Providence initially contributed $400,000 to the bike-share service though a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant. The city has not paid additional funds for the operation of the program.

Providence initially began negotiations for a bike-share service with Social Bicycles, but the company was bought by JUMP shortly before the contract was signed.

JUMP tried to increase rental prices by more than 400 percent in August, but reduced the increase after public outcry.

The scooter rental companies Lime and Bird also ceased operations in Providence, but the e-scooters are coming back — albeit supplied by different companies. After contract negotiations were finalized with the city, Spin and VeoRide scooters will soon be available for renting. The companies must pay the city $1 per day for each scooter in use.

Providence doubled the number of scooter permits from 300 to 600. Lime pulled out of the market after it was awarded a contract for 250 scooters, instead of the 400 scooters it hoped to operate. Bird wasn’t awarded a contract.

Scooter service began in summer 2018, when Bird scattered a fleet of electronic scooters across Providence without notifying the city. The dockless scooter system was popular but also considered a nuisance with many scattered haphazardly on sidewalks.

Under the new regulations, scooter companies have 24 hours to move or retrieve errant scooters.

"We have heard from constituents that affordable forms of transportation choices are desired citywide,” said Victor Morente, spokesperson for the city. “Bike share is one way the city is able to provide residents with affordable transportation."