SALEM — The e-scooters have arrived.
Zagster, a micro-mobility company running a bike-share network in the city since 2017, launched the first wave of its electric scooter program in Salem Thursday afternoon with about 20 scooters set up for public demonstrations and training at the recently completed 289 Derby St. park.
About 50 scooters were slated to be in the city by Friday morning, with the total number up to 100 starting Monday, according to Nick Downing, the city's assistant director of traffic and parking. Eventually, the company will have about 250 scooters throughout the city.
"I'm not sure when we'll go from 100 to 250," Downing said. "The focus is generally around downtown, but we've got as many as 40 to 50 scooter parking areas. A lot of them are located ... in our bike-share locations, transit, bus stops, other bike racks that we have."
The e-scooters are run through a smartphone app called SPIN. Rides cost $1 each plus 15 cents for every minute of use. Before using a scooter, users must prove they are at least 18 years old — which can be accomplished by scanning the barcode on a state-issued driver's license.
Once a scooter is unlocked, it must simply be pushed along by foot to start riding. Once a rider has momentum, a green lever on the right handlebar increases speed while a red one on the left handlebar applies the scooter's front brake. A "spoon brake" over the rear wheel can also be used to slow the scooter down by lightly stepping on the brake.
To complete a ride, users must return the scooter to a designated parking area. Those who don't properly leave scooters behind after a ride or abuse the system are subject to being banned from the program going forward.
The program is running on a pilot basis and can be shut down by police Chief Mary Butler at any point if safety issues become a problem. It was approved by the City Council in June on a 7-3 vote, with many people concerned over the safety of the scooters and the availability of helmets for riders.
While helmets were available for use during demonstrations on Thursday, those will be subject to a slower rollout than the scooters themselves, according to Mayor Kim Driscoll.
"If anyone wants to borrow a helmet, we'll have them at City Hall," she said, adding that some businesses will also be providing them in the future. "This is just for the pilot, but (for full programs) there are vending machines where you can purchase a helmet at the same location."
Few people showed up for a demonstration period at noon on Thursday. Among them was Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, and Jeff Swartz, assistant director under Oosthoek.
"It was a fun scooter to ride — a little bit quicker than I was anticipating," Swartz said. "The braking was efficient, and I didn't feel unsafe while riding it, so that was nice."
Oosthoek said he felt the scooters were "pretty fun" and was surprised by how easy it was to use them.
"What's surprising is the back-foot brake. That's what you have to get used to," he said. "The handlebar works like a bike, but the back-foot brake is something new."
Tim Ahern, a Salem resident, was doing laps around the 289 Derby park as his wife Linda watched from a distance.
"He looked like he was having fun," Linda Ahern said. "He's ridden a motorcycle, so I know he can handle this."
Tim Ahern, meanwhile, rejected the comparison of the scooter to a motorcycle while adding that users should pace themselves on the scooters.
"It's a great idea," he said, "but I think you should practice for a while before you get carried away on city streets."
On that note, Swartz further recognized that the pilot is likely to "start with a lot of people riding them for fun, then there will be a transition as the novelty wears off to (being) a transportation option."
"It's going to be a good transportation option, as long as people are following the rules of the road and doing the right thing," he said.
Driscoll said she hopes the lasting impact of the scooters will help thin out traffic a little around Salem. She cited a recent statistic from Brookline, where it's estimated that a similar program there saw 21 percent of riders ditching cars over the scooters.
"If we can get people to cut down on the amount of car usage and congestion on the roadway, that's a positive benefit for us — and even those who would never ride," Driscoll said. "That was Brookline's experience. We'll be tracking our own data."