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Pooja Singh, right, and Kate Shemwell ride e-scooters at a demo hosted by Boulder, the Boulder Chamber and several e-scooter companies on Sept. 18 in Flatiron Park.
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Bike sharing in Boulder is in danger of disappearing, and commercial electric scooter companies may not get the chance to replace the B-Cycle service as a last-mile transportation option if city staff has its way.

A memo to City Council ahead of its Tuesday study session recommends the city should increase its subsidy to Boulder B-Cycle to keep the bike sharing program operating as it faces a lack of funding, due mainly to health care provider Kaiser Permanente ceasing sponsorship of the program more than a year ago.

City staff have recommended stepping in to save Boulder B-Cycle, which could shut down by March without more funding, the memo said. While the city since 2014 has provided $65,000 annually to the bike sharing service, it gave an additional $80,000 to the service in 2019 after Kaiser pulled out its support. The service would have died in November without the extra city money.

The city spent about $1.45 per bike share ride last year, the memo said.

“That decision (to withdraw financial support) was made at a time of significant change for our organization,” said Kaiser spokesperson Nick Roper. He was unable to immediately provide a specific reason Friday for Kaiser discontinuing its sponsorship of the service.

While Boulder B-Cycle requires about $185,000 in funding to maintain its current operations, city and University of Colorado officials have both recommended splitting the cost of providing $275,000 in funding to the service in 2020 to “maintain, refine and evolve Boulder B-Cycle’s operations,” the memo said.

The city would provide 60% of the funding with CU prepared to provide 40%, according to the memo.

“The reliance of sponsorship funds placed the organization in a vulnerable position to maintain their system, much less, expand or evolve,” the memo said.

Meanwhile city officials, citing fatalities in e-scooter related incidents among other potential complications with regulating the increasingly popular vehicles, also suggested Council disallow commercial shared-e-scooter operators like Lime and Bird from operating in Boulder.

Council would have to green light the city staff’s recommendation to provide more funding to the bike sharing program. Should it decline to provide the money, it would have to go against staff’s recommendations in order for e-scooter operators to fill the gap left by Boulder B-Cycle.

Staff believes bike sharing is far safer than e-scooter sharing, with 21 e-scooter related traffic deaths since 2018, and only four bike share, according to National Association of City Transportation Officials data. Staff also said its research showed one shared e-scooter injury per 5,604 miles traveled, with one personal bike injury per 235,000 miles traveled and about one bike share injury per 473,000 miles traveled.

Council imposed a moratorium on issuing e-scooter companies license to operate in Boulder in May last year so city staff could analyze whether they should be allowed or regulated.

“User compliance to regulations governing where e-scooters may be used and parked is also of great concern. Many of the negative behaviors associated with e-scooter use occurs despite having robust regulations in place,” the city memo stated.

Denver B-Cycle as of November was set to end operations early this year, as Denver officials opted to kill its business permitting system for shared e-scooters and bicycles and shift to a competitive bid process that would award one or more companies contracts to operate micromobility services.

“CU is a state agency and can operate and regulate micromobility independent of what the city chooses to do, although there is agreement that the regulations governing micromobility for each entity should be seamless,” the city memo stated. “… At this point, the timeframe (is) unclear when this decision will be made, although staff is inclined to believe that CU Boulder will prohibit shared e-scooter operations on CU’s campus due primarily to safety and path congestion concerns.”

City officials have suggested allowing privately-owned lightweight electric vehicles, including e-scooters, on local streets and only within the bike lane on all other streets, as well as on all or some multi-use paths.

Also on the Council agenda for Tuesday is a discussion of whether the city should regulate hemp cultivation and extraction operations in similar fashions as the marijuana industry.

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