SALEM — Ride-sharing company Zagster has ended its partnership with the city, leaving locked bikes to be collected as regional planners look for new options that could expand "micro-mobility" to places outside Salem.
Zagster has provided a bike-sharing system in Salem since 2017 and electronic scooters for the past year. The contract — a three-year deal amended to include scooters in the final year — ended in May without an extension, according to Dave Kucharsky, the city's traffic and parking director.
The move was not a total surprise, Kucharsky said.
"We're working with (the Metropolitan Area Planning Council) to do that regional procurement," he said. "The MAPC did go through the process, and it turns out that Zagster hadn't submitted a bid. We had two other companies that did.
"We're in the process of reviewing those companies, but when Zagster didn't (respond) we were curious as to why," Kucharsky added. "We weren't getting any answers from them until we found out recently they were pulling out of various markets."
The scooter-share has been offline since March, but the bikes have remained. As of Monday, the Zagster app to use them was no longer available on the Google Play store, the smartphone app market for Android devices.
Counties and organizations across the country reported last week that ride-sharing programs with Zagster were being halted or ended. That includes Fort Collins, Colo. — where Zagster operated the city's "Pace" bike-share system through a contract that was due to end in August. According to the city's website, COVID-19 has "adversely affected its business."
“While we’re disappointed and surprised by this news, we understand this is a difficult time for many businesses,” said Tessa Greegor, Fort Collins' active modes manager. “The city is committed to exploring options for a similar program as a service to our residents and visitors.”
Details on the two companies that responded to MAPC's bid for regional options weren't immediately available Monday.
Salem City Councilor Josh Turiel, who represents Ward 5 and has frequently led discussions on the ride-sharing systems on social media, said he favors "a unified system with other communities."
That, and no scooters — something Turiel was a proponent of trying before having issues with their use last year.
"For us, regional transportation is probably best suited as a mixture of regular and electronic bicycles," Turiel said. "I don't think scooters are a really good fit for smaller New England cities and towns."
There's a possibility that Salem could end up keeping the bikes, with a system like Salem Spins, a city-run bike sharing system that formally ended in 2017 when Zagster moved in. The program made bikes available for free to users with a credit card and driver's license (to prevent theft), but the lack of maintenance on the bikes became an issue.
If the city decides not to keep the bikes, they likely won't be around for long.
"They've indicated they're going to be removing all the bikes and docks within the next couple weeks," Kucharsky said.