Concerns rise over use of e-scooters contributing to COVID-19 spread

Updated: Sep. 9, 2020 at 5:39 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Tucson City Council will decide whether to extend the e-scooters pilot program in Tucson for another six months or put it on pause until the coronavirus threat diminishes.

Ward 6 City Council member Steve Kozachik, who is on record has opposed the pilot program, wants to put it on hold because he fears it will aid in the spread of COVID-19.

“I think it’s highly irresponsible for this mayor and council to pretend with 25 or 30 thousand U of A students now arriving in town and being the primary users of these things that we’re not inviting more community spread of the coronavirus,” he said.

In defense of the extension, the Transportation Department sent us this statement:

"The City of Tucson Department of Transportation and Mobility (DTM) is seeking to extend the duration of the pilot program for six months. The plan was to gather one year of data of the program in existence.

When the pandemic hit it disrupted the use of the scooters, therefore DTM would like an opportunity to capture more usage information.

The launch of the pilot program showed the e-scooters were popular and resulted in a lot of trips.

From September 12, 2019 to March 12, 2020 – There were 197,410 total trips made traveling 158,927 miles.

On average, there were 1,037 trips/day at about 0.87 miles/trip. 740 E-Scooters were deployed.

From March 12, 2020 to August 12, 2020, when the pandemic hit – There were 34,232 total trips made, traveling 41,292 miles.

On average, there were 246 trips/day at about 1.22 miles/trip. 264 e-scooters were deployed.

Even though the numbers went down this past six months, we have data and observations that people are using the e-scooters for necessary trips, such as getting groceries, going to work, and going to other important services that support daily life.

Upon approval to extend the program for another 6 months, DTM plans to:

  • Install more e-scooter parking locations;
  • Increase deployment of the e-scooters in the Opportunity Areas; and,
  • Use the data collected during the extended phase to analyze the limited-term pilot, as well as inform the considerations of a long-term shared mobility program.

Still, Kozachik feels there are other issues which are not being addressed such as the number of injuries. There is no clearing house for injuries but he says he’s heard from hospital emergency rooms about head injuries because the riders don’t wear helmets. Bone fractures are another issue. Even though there has been nearly a quarter of a million rides, there have been no deaths in Tucson.

But Kozachik says that’s not the biggest issue now.

“The rest of the council seems to think these are a cute little micro transit option,” he said. “The reality is, it’s a potential vector for community spread.”

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero says she favors the extension because “COVID-19 disrupted the pilot program.”

But Kozachik, who was on the losing end of a 6-1 vote to begin the pilot program a year ago, says he’s hoping to change some minds.

“I intent to make the point that the responsible thing to do is pause the program and see what they say,” he said.

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