A Quiet Rollout: Electric Scooters on Campus

A newer, leaner, greener mode of transportation arrived quietly on campus Tuesday, Aug. 31.

The first electric foot scooters were delivered in the morning hours near Wissink Hall and a few other areas on campus for a quick evaluation before the big launch in mid-September. (Facilities manager David Cowan was officially the first University figure – student, faculty or staff—to take a scooter for a 15 mph cruise.) Tuesday saw the arrival of 40 toward an expected total of 150 Bird scooters available on campus within months.

Student Senate president Reauna Stiff and International Student Association President Waleed Sulehri test-drive scooters soon to be widespread across campus.

As envisioned by 2020-2021 student senate president Andrew Trenne, who initiated the move, the scooters will provide an option for students to transport themselves across campus in ways that are easier on the environment and cheaper than vehicles. Users pay through an app—$1 to start up and 39 cents per minute afterward—so there’s no University funding involved.

The implementation was cut short by the pandemic, and this year’s student senate president, Reauna Stiff is eager to see it resumed “and make sure students have an accessible and equitable way to get around campus.”

The biggest selling point for students, she said, is the time-saving aspect.

“For some students, they might have classes on opposite sides of the university, so rather than trying to race from one building to the other, you can hop on a scooter and hopefully get there within a timely manner,” she said.

The California-based firm that makes the scooters, Bird, has fleets in cities worldwide, including New Ulm, Minnesota, where the city council passed an ordinance allowing for up to 145 scooters to be available by the end of September. Nick Thiel is the operations manager for Tech Unlimited, which manages the New Ulm fleet as well as those arriving at the University.

Student Senate President Reauna Stiff taking her first ride on a Bird electric foot scooter.

“They’re awesome, they’re amazing,” Thiel said. “They’re easy to use. It really is as simple as kicking off, pushing the throttle and then holding the brake handle when you want to slow down.”

Users need to download the app for Bird, a company that lists as its mission: “To make cities more livable by reducing car usage, traffic, and carbon emissions.”

“That was also a consideration as well when I talked to Mr. Cowan and the previous student government president,” Stiff said of the emission mission. “That was important in considering companies to use, so Bird really met all their expectations when it came to picking one.”

Signs marking areas as scooter “nests” are now across campus.

Scooters will be rounded up every night after 10 p.m., recharged and repaired if needed.  They will be deployed each morning at established locations around campus. Cowan on Tuesday was placing signage outside Wiecking and other buildings designating them as parking areas for the scooters (or “nests” as the Bird company prefers.) The signs brandish QR codes to power up the rides.

Still to come are racks for the scooters, which in the meantime can be brought to the various “nests,” which will total around 30 across campus, Cowan said.

Standing by watching how the Bird scooter experience goes at the University is the City of Mankato, which has been studying the feasibility of implementing a scooter system city-wide.

In the meantime, the scooters on campus are ready for use.