Brick City’s Impending Bike and E-Scooter Share Aims to Supply Freedom of Mobility

White Fox, the only New Jersey-based e-scooter company, took Central Ward Councilwoman Lamonica McIver on a ridealong in October.

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NEWARK, NJ — For the first time in 100 years, a new mode of public transportation will be tested in Newark, and its chassis is one whose use has become almost as ubiquitous as masks during the pandemic. 

This coming spring, the city will launch its six-month pilot for NewarkGo, an affordable e-scooter and bike share that will be accessible throughout the city. Newark joins New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and others in embracing docking stations as city slickers across the United States look for safer alternatives to mass transportation. 

“A bike and scooter share promotes physical distancing in this time of COVID. More and more people are reluctant to get on a bus because of COVID concerns, so a program like this allows for the public transportation option to still be there while providing a safety net,” said Chris Watson, City Planning Officer for Department of Economic and Housing Development. 

New Jersey passed legislation allowing electric scooters that travel up to 20 miles per hour on its roadways in May 2019. They’re regulated like a bicycle, so riders do not need insurance or a license, but they are not allowed on sidewalks.

Watson, who worked with specialists to identify “equity zones” throughout the city, said NewarkGo will start with 20 fleets throughout the city’s downtown and Ironbound section and 10 more dispersed between Newark’s other wards. The city is engaging at least 21 partners from the YMCA and local universities to Audible and Prudential. 

White Fox, a New Jersey-based e-scooter company that recently hosted Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver on a ridealong, said their scooters are $1 to unlock and $.015 per minute thereafter. McIver said that her office recently put out a survey to collect data from residents to help Mayor Ras Baraka’s administration make informed decisions when putting together a request for proposal. 

“Newark is going forward, and with that being said, we are implementing things that are more accessible for our communities, and one of those things is getting around the community,” MicIver said. “Not to mention it promotes a cleaner and safer environment for us.” 

White Fox is currently in talks with several corporate campuses around Newark separately from the city’s program. 

“We think of it as a micromobility solution, and I think it will work very well here in New Jersey,” said Matt Dikovics, managing partner Nassau Consulting Group, which represents White Fox. “As someone who worked in Newark for many years and understands its local transportation, it would be great to connect the wards with things like supermarkets, health care, jobs and other infrastructure.” 

Therein lies Watson’s and the city of Newark’s philosophy in creating and launching its own e-scooter and bike share. Though it's far from a new concept, Watson is confident NewarkGo will reduce the socioeconomic barriers that have long plagued a geographically divided city. 

Local hiring requirements for businesses that come to Newark would also make the bike and e-scooter share program a source of opportunity for residents. 

“We think we are in a position where we can learn from others who have done this in the past, we can create a program that suits the needs of Newarkers,” he said. 

Examples like Hoboken’s e-scooter pilot have highlighted issues with improper docking, an issue pedestrians have complained about elsewhere. Given Newark’s considerable population of residents who use public assistance, or who do not have a bank account or smartphone, the city is also looking for ways to accommodate universally. 

As entities like NJ Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey suffer massive deficits in the age of the cornavirus, some wonder whether e-scooter and bike shares will accelerate a collapse of crucial infrastructure. Watson, however, thinks is about time Newarkers had more control over their travel. 

“There are often times when (buses and trains) can’t accommodate our residents. There are often times when their schedule doesn’t our residents, and we need to be accommodated,” Watson said. “While they may be suffering, our residents are suffering too, and we cannot lengthen the timeframe for them to be linked to opportunity.” 

And with the city’s plans to pedestrianize and lessen the impact of cars in its public spaces, the e-scooter era’s timing couldn’t be better. Mayor Ras Baraka recently announced the city will soon build its own version New York City’s Highline Park as part of its Mulberry Commons project, among other initiatives to increase foot traffic. 

“A car is a luxury vehicle for the middle class and above, and through no fault of our own, we don’t live in a city where the plurality of the population is of that socioeconomic status,” Watson said. “I would like the street fight to end up with pedestrians winning.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-11-06 02:59:39 -0800