Winchester considers e-scooter pilot program

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Electric-powered scooters have been popping up across cities and university campuses nationwide, and Winchester may be soon be joining the emerging trend.

Winchester Town Manager Lisa Wong has been in discussions with San Francisco-based company Spin about launching a 12-month pilot program, which will include a smaller rollout this fall and a more substantial launch in the spring.

Starting with Spin

After some research on e-scooter companies features and rankings, Wong considered Spin the most fitting program for Winchester’s pilot. The startup is owned by the Ford Motor Co. and is well-funded, she said at a recent Select Board meeting. The company also hires permanent staff - as opposed to Uber-style employees - a helpful model for continuity and building a relationship with Winchester’s staff and residents.

“For a small town like us, we’d like to know people that have gone through background checks, that have been vetted, rather than not knowing from day to day who or if somebody is going to pick up and drop off the scooters,” said Wong.

In Massachusetts, Brookline led the way in the first state-approved program in Massachusetts that the city launched last April. But unlike Brookline, which brought on both Bird and Lime scooter companies during its pilot, Winchester is planning to partner with Spin only, at least in the beginning. Once Spin is up and running, Wong said, there is potential for partnering with other companies so that riders can more easily move across town boundaries and leave scooters at various locations.

Battery-charged e-scooters will be parked at the dockless stations that can be either marked by paint or signage. Much like ride-share bikes, scooters can be located with an app and then dropped off at various locations. Under Massachusetts law, riders must have a valid learner’s permit or driver’s license and must wear a helmet. The program stipulates that riders must be at least 18 years old, and scooters may not be ridden on the sidewalk.

Concerns raised, more data necessary

Local residents and officials expressed potential concerns that may need attention. Jim Whitehead, a member of the Town’s Traffic and Transportation Advisory Committee, wanted to ensure the longevity of the battery charge so riders could complete a round-trip work commute.

The questions about e-scooters safety also linger. According to the study conducted by the Public Health and Transportation departments in Austin, Texas, in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20 individuals were injured per 100,000 e-scooter trips during a three-month period, many of which sustained head injuries.

And that’s precisely why the data-gathering process is so important, Wong said. “It’s the reason why we need pretty extensive staff input and a lot of data and a lot of feedback,” said Wong.

As part of the pilot, Winchester will be able to set speed limits for scooters in certain areas and create restricted zones where scooter riding isn’t permitted, like the Middlesex Fells or Watershed areas, for example. “It’s very fluid, the whole point of the pilot program is that there is a continuous data we can look at,” said Wong.

The conversation about e-scooters in Winchester is a catalyst for broader conversation about the town’s infrastructure and safety for two-wheel riders. “We need to improve the infrastructure not just for scooters, but also for bicycles,” said Select Board Chair Mariano Goluboff. “We need separated bike lanes.”


The Novus Group