Electric scooter rental is coming to Waco this summer. Rental scooters have been wildly popular in cities like Austin and San Antonio, but they have also caused major problems for people with disabilities when users ride them on sidewalks or leave them in places that block pedestrian paths. Having heard those concerns, the Amberley Collaborative reached out to Michelle Burdick, partner experience manager for Gotcha, the shared mobility company chosen by the City of Waco to operate here. Here’s what we talked about.
AC: Thank you, Michelle, for taking the time for this Q&A. The first thing I’m wondering about is: Why scooters?
M: E-scooters and electric pedal-assist bikes reduce the number of single-occupancy rides in cars. They reduce traffic congestion and parking issues. We believe that as long as a program is thoughtfully and strategically implemented it can benefit the whole community.
How will scooters benefit Waco specifically?
Gotcha’s partnership with the City of Waco will benefit the community by offering a new mobility option that’s eco-friendly and approachable.
We want to make biking and scooting part of the community’s everyday lives—for their daily commute or exploring the city recreationally. The program offers an accessible, affordable, and sustainable micro-transit solution for the City of Waco.
When will Gotcha launch in Waco?
We’re working with the City on accessibility, ADA compliance, and property ownership issues. In advance of the launch, Gotcha plans to hire in-market staff, secure a warehouse, and scout mobility hub locations. We expect to launch in late summer.
How extensive will the Waco program be?
We’ll start with 50 e-scooters and 50 e-bikes. (E-bikes are electric, pedal-assist bikes with a rechargeable battery. You ride them like a regular bicycle, but if you encounter a hill, the motor kicks in and helps while you continue to pedal at a normal rate.) The program will start in downtown Waco and expand as ridership grows.
How many cities is Gotcha in now?
Gotcha operates its e-mobility products in approximately 75 cities and universities across the country.
How do you manage growth so the program fits the city and doesn’t become overwhelming?
There’s an educational curve that comes with implementing a shared mobility system, especially in a city that doesn’t have such a system in place. The data we gather will drive growth. Usually increases are based on the amount of ridership; we increase to meet demand. It’s a phased approach.
Also, we approach this as a partnership with the City. We wouldn’t be bringing this to Waco without working hand-in-hand with the City. It’s our job to listen to the community. We have people who focus on helping riders troubleshoot. It’s extremely important that we aren’t making these decisions solely. We will work with the City on any changes.
Let’s get to some of the concerns we’ve heard from the disability community. In some cities people ride electric rental scooters on sidewalks. This is can be disorienting and dangerous for people with low vision, mobility limitations, and other disabilities. Will people be able to ride the scooters on sidewalks?
The scooters should be used only in the road. Users will be prohibited from riding on sidewalks in Waco. Riders should be vigilant and follow all local traffic laws. At Gotcha, we encourage riders to wear a helmet at all times while riding.
What about parking? On a recent visit to Austin, I saw scooters left in the middle of sidewalks and I’ve heard about them blocking curb ramps and doorways.
Austin has a free-roaming system where the bikes and scooters don’t have to lock to something, and there is no fee structure in place to encourage you to lock them.
At Gotcha, we encourage riders to park in designated hubs. Riders cannot park in loading zones, handicap accessibility spots, street parking spots, curb ramps, business or residential entry ways, travel lanes, bike lanes, driveways, parklets, or within 15 feet of a fire hydrant.
What about noise and other possibly startling aspects of the scooters?
Our bikes and scooters are electric so they aren’t noisy. Mobility hubs will not be on sidewalks unless the sidewalks are very wide. Usually they will be in existing green space or parking spaces. We have to make sure the remaining space on the sidewalk is still ADA compliant.
How will people know how the system works and how to resolve problems?
We will educate the community by marketing locally through social media, advertising, and press. We employ mobility ambassadors to help promote the program, and we will host safety events to educate people about the correct way to interact with the system. When people encounter problems, they will be able to contact our Rider Experience team by phone or email, and they will alert the local team immediately regarding problems that require a quick response. Each of our mobility products has our Rider Experience team’s contact information on them. Everyone will be trained so they know where priorities lie in terms of responding quickly.
Also, the data we gather about rides helps us improve the system. For example, if we see that there’s an area where people are parking outside a mobility hub, we will create a designated parking zone nearby.
How can Wacoans, especially people with disabilities, help the scooter program work for everyone?
By sharing information and feedback with Gotcha. The only way we’re going to know that we’re operating a program that does or doesn’t cause problems is from that feedback. Communication is the biggest part of what makes this work. Feedback from both users and nonusers will help us make sure we operate a program that’s successful for the community without creating additional obstacles.
How can people share that feedback?
They can contact our Rider Experience team through phone or email. We’ll conduct user surveys. Our local team will be present at local events where people can provide feedback.
People could comment on this blog post too if they have questions or concerns, and the Amberley Collaborative can relay that feedback to Gotcha and City departments, right? And Gotcha can respond directly here as well.
Yes, that would be very helpful. It’s all about communication.
Thank you for your time, Michelle. Let’s keep talking.