Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Short trips around Missoula could soon be made on a number of shared devices including electric scooters and e-bikes as the City of Missoula reconsiders allowing private companies to provide new transportation modes.

Members of the City Council this week directed staff to prepare a potential policy regarding “micro-mobility” and how a system would operate if permitted. The results will detail regulations like access and storage, among other things.

“With emerging trends and technologies, there's a rapidly changing landscape around transportation,” said planner Arron Wilson. “The playbook lays out a strategy on how we can leverage those technologies to benefit our community goals as opposed to letting those technologies happen to us.”

Wilson said emerging mobility includes a wide range of shared devices including electric scooters, electric bikes, car sharing, ride sharing and mopeds. Shared systems are generally designed for short trips in urban areas that are made on rented vehicles.

Such services are in wide use in other cities and local transportation planners, along with the Metropolitan Planning Organization, would like to adopt a system in Missoula. City staff has already reached out to both Bend and Bozeman to discuss the pros and cons of their shared mobility system.

“There are public and private partners we can work with to help leverage these technologies,” said city planner Zoe Walters. “We can learn from what they've been doing, and there's a lot of opportunities to pilot and test. We can work on these and improve them over time.”

The City Council in 2019 passed on an opportunity to launch a shared mobility system with LimeBike due to a number of concerns. But in recent years, Wilson said shared mobility companies have addressed a number of issues that initially plagued the system including theft and sidewalk clutter.

Last year, city planners were also contacted by Bird Microelectric Mobility to discuss regulations that could work in Missoula. The University of Montana also has expressed interest in a micro-mobility system to alleviate parking issues on campus.

All but one member of the City Council on Wednesday expressed interest in developing regulations that could work for Missoula.

“Back when we first considered this, there were issues with the scooters being left on sidewalks. But with the parking corals, they've addressed that and it's a better scenario,” said council member Gwen Jones. “They have more tools now and we should be having a discussion on these items.”

Missoula had a shared mobility system when Free Cycles painted dozens of bikes green, indicating they were free to share and use as needed. But the system had flaws and soon the green bikes became hard to find.

But with the right regulations in place, members of the City Council appear ready to reconsider a shared mobility system.

“I think it's great we're moving forward with this but at the very least, we need some policies,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “Enforcement is an important component to me, knowing how we'd enforce the policies we set in motion. But the possibility of shared mobility is an important component of achieving our transportation goals.”