[By Dustin Luca]
SALEM — The city is placing restrictions on its electric scooter program, including a scooter blackout downtown on weekends during Haunted Happenings.
Scooter speeds have also been capped at 5 mph downtown for the month of October, according to city traffic planner Dave Kucharsky.
The changes come amid criticism after the e-scooters were being used this past weekend in downtown Salem — the start of the city’s bustling Halloween tourism season.
“We still have issues with irresponsible behavior, like underaged people finding ways to rent these, people doing stupid things like kids riding in a pack or riding in tandem. There are a lot of people who don’t care what our rules are and are idiots to boot,” said City Councilor Josh Turiel. “I think they’re a great tool, but I’m not sure they work given our density, our streets, and the people who rent them.”
Zagster, a micro-mobility company that has run a bike share in Salem for the last three years, launched a pilot program earlier this year to also provide e-scooters throughout Salem. The program started with 100 scooters and a 15 mph speed limit.
After issues with settings that restrict the scooters from operating in certain parts of the city, the scooter speed limit was reduced to 12 mph. Now, 250 e-scooters are available in the city for the one-year trial.
Overall, city officials are happy with the program. Police Chief Mary Butler can unplug the program at any time, but said Monday she doesn’t see the need.
“The scooters are really working well for commuters. It’s working really well for Salem State folks,” Butler said. “I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Since the pilot launched, three traffic accidents have been blamed on the scooters, according to Salem police Capt. Fred Ryan. They include a hit-and-run between a car and scooter on Sept. 10 — an accident where the scooter rider was dealt a bruise to the leg — and two instances of scooter riders crashing into parked vehicles on June 19 and Sept. 13.
No incidents of scooters colliding with pedestrians have been reported to police. But officials say the crowds during October can make downtown Salem tough to navigate on foot, never mind on an electric scooter.
“Just as I felt before, the weekends in October probably aren’t the best mix,” Butler said. “We have a lot of pedestrians and lots of people who are new visitors to town who are a little distracted by watching their maps. The better course of action at this point is, really, to take the right action — and have downtown sort of be a no-go zone.”
The “no-go zone” covers a block of the city as far west as North and Summer streets, all the way east to Hawthorne Boulevard, according to a map released by the city Tuesday. It starts with Norman, New Derby and Derby streets to the south and terminates at Brown, St. Peter’s Street, Bridge and Federal streets to the north. The blackout zone remains in effect every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October, as well as on Halloween, which this year falls on a Thursday.
With scooters blocked from running downtown, more parking stations will be set up around the perimeter of the no-go zone, according to Kucharsky.
“We want to make sure that folks who want to use them properly can,” Kucharsky said, “but would have to get off at a point and walk.”
Zagster spokesperson Phil LeClare said the company is “working with the city to address any concerns around scooter usage in October — particularly on the weekends.”
“We’ve already amended our services for the month and will further do so based on the city’s request,” LeClare said. “We pride ourselves with working very closely with communities we’re in, and we aim for optimal compliance for what the city needs and what fits where they’re at.”
Still Turiel said he’s not a fan of the pilot continuing.
“I’m not 100% committed one way or the other, but I’m very much leaning against it based on the experience I’ve seen,” Turiel said. “If things that went wrong are things we can correct, and we can adjust for other issues, maybe it’s something we can consider going forward with. But as it stands right now, what we have right now isn’t something I’ll support next year.”