Electric scooters give Duluth a new way to roll
A new fleet of electric scooters took the streets of Duluth last weekend, and the owners of Leaf Rides say riders have been enthusiastic.
Peyton Mclean, 18, approached a group of four electric scooters near the blue slip bridge on Thursday afternoon. He was confident that he wanted to take one for a spin.
But, he first needed to convince his family to join him on a ride. “We’re in a cool city, and it would be cool to drive around,” he said.
Although his family ended up not joining him, Mclean got his chance to take one for a quick ride. “It goes faster than what I was expecting,” he said after a single lap around a Canal Park parking lot.
He was riding a scooter form Duluth’s first fleet of electrically powered scooters, which were rolled out last weekend by local start-up Leaf Rides. After a full week of operation, which included some expected technical difficulties, the owners of Leaf say they’re excited to give people the opportunity to experience more of Duluth.
The owners of Leaf Rides, two undergrads from the University of Minnesota Duluth, supplied about 50 scooter to waterfront areas, including Canal Park, Bayfront Festival Park and downtown Duluth, for the official start of scooter season on July 13.
After one week of operation, Leaf co-owners Latisha Forsberg and Jed Irvine said rider feedback has been “awesome.” As of Thursday, Duluth residents and visitors have taken about 500 rides.
Duluth was the perfect place for scooters, Forsberg and Irvine said, because it’s a fun mode of transportation for exploring a city. “We couldn’t believe it hadn’t gotten up here already,” Irvine said.
For now, it’s only Forsberg and Irvine running Leaf, leaving them solely responsible for picking every scooter up about 10 p.m. each day and then placing them back out about 7 a.m. the next day.
On Thursday afternoon in Canal Park, Jacob Brown, 12, was the first brave member of his family to approach a group of scooters.
Brown said he has seen them in the Twin Cities and was excited to ride. "We always (have) wanted to check it out, but we've never had time," he said.
As Brown and his mother, Terri Brown of Prior Lake, were connecting to the scooters, they experienced technical difficulties and had to call Leaf's customer support phone line.
Technical problems in the first week were expected, Forsberg and Irvine said. The challenges were primarily with phones connecting to scooters via Bluetooth when people moved out of range.
But, Forsberg said, fixing these problems is simple. Each scooter has the company’s number listed on a tag, and are responsive to any calls they receive.
“Week One launch — we knew there was going to be at least one of two problems,” Irvine said. “In the grand scheme of things, (we) couldn’t be more happy.”
The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center has worked with Leaf to get scooters placed nearby, said Jeff Stark, who works in the DECC’s venue operation and as the Bayfront Festival park director.
Scooters are an ideal mode of transportation as many perusing the waterfront areas are tourists, Stark said. They can quickly get from lodging to events for a low cost.
At July’s Trampled by Turtles show, Stark said he saw upwards of 20 scooters parked outside Bayfront. When the show finished, the scooters disappeared as people rode them to exit the area, he said. “It was a remarkable first weekend for them.”
Ahead of summer riders, Duluth City Council passed a new scooter ordinance in late Apri l, dictating where scooter can go and park.
The new ordinances regulates scooters similar to how they regulate bikes: electric scooters can’t be used on sidewalks in business districts. Pedestrians also need to abide by signs that prohibit riding in certain areas.
And, they can’t be parked in the path of pedestrians. The preferred spot is near bike racks or the edge of sidewalks, according to the ordinance.
Irvine said some still hold misconceptions about the scooters, as they’ve heard stories about larger scooter companies that place hundreds of scooters in communities and then leave.
But, he said, they’re far more accessible than the other companies, as their phone number is listed on each scooter, and they provide free helmet services. “We’re here. This is our home. We’re providing a service. We’re going to be around to take care of it. We’re not going to let scooters sit idle,” Irvine said.
While many people are using them in Canal Park, Irvine said they’re now focusing on getting people to ride to different areas, like downtown Duluth and the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
We want people to “experience all aspects of Duluth,” he said.