Friday, April 12, 2024

Scooters keep ending up in the Red Cedar River, but they're staying on campus

March 29, 2024
Spin scooters line the streets of Circle Drive on April 5, 2022.
Spin scooters line the streets of Circle Drive on April 5, 2022. —
Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

The Red Cedar River has a scooter problem.

Over the past few years, hundreds of scooters and bikes have been pulled out of the Red Cedar River, which runs through MSU's campus. 

Because the river is a natural habitat for wildlife like fish and waterfowl, and because lithium batteries in the scooters can leak and enter the water, there has been rising concern regarding the health of the river.

According to the city of East Lansing, over 250 electric scooters from the Spin company have been pulled from the river in the last three years. One scooter hot spot is the portion of the river near the Bogue Street bridge.

The scooters have been causing problems on the other side of Grand River Avenue too, according to the city. East Lansing's city manager requested that Spin's license be revoked in September 2023.  

The city's ban

Then earlier this month, the East Lansing City Council voted 4-1 to revoke Spin's business license. The city's motion said Spin had violated multiple city ordinances. It cited a January hearing in which the city argued that their issues included: 

  • Scooters being placed throughout Downtown East Lansing outside designated parking locations
  • Scooters parked outside of local business emergency exits 
  • Scooters not being removed daily and situated within designated deployment areas between 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. as required 
  • Scooters being left in the right of ways, sidewalks and yards 

Though the scooters' dumping in the river was not included in the city's motion to revoke the contract, this issue was discussed at the council meeting. 

"Somebody dumped over 200 of their scooters in the Red Cedar River, and I'm not interested in doing business any longer with a company that allowed that to happen," Mayor of East Lansing George Brookover said when discussing the motion. 

Despite the vote, Spin hopes to continue its relationship with the city. 

“We are extremely interested in continuing to do business in and work with the city of East Lansing,” a Spin representative told The State News. “We are confident in our ability to work with City contacts to address any concerns they have regarding the program."

How does the ban affect MSU?

 It's unclear what, if any, effect this ban will have on the Red Cedar. Although the ban on Spin scooters is active throughout East Lansing, the scooters are not banned on MSU’s campus. 

"What (the city) did does not impact MSU at all,” MSU spokesperson Mark Bullion said. “Right now it is business as usual because we operate under a completely separate contract than the city of East Lansing. We are able to continue to offer them to our students, faculty and staff who use them on campus.”

Spin has already implemented strategies to mitigate the risk of individuals throwing e-scooters in local waterways, according to a spokesperson. These include: 

  • Using GPS to make all bridges in the area no parking zones to eliminate the possibility of scooters ending up in the vicinity of the river
  • Removing all Spin deployment/parking locations within 300 feet of the river
  • Conducting sweeps of areas in the vicinity of the river each day, including dispatching a team member to relocate a scooter if it ends up within 300 feet of the river
  • Immediately attempting retrieval of any scooters suspected to have been thrown in the river using a combination of grappling hooks and fishing magnets
  • Collaborating with local organizations to gather feedback and suggestions on additional strategies

Why are scooters ending up in the river?

Packaging freshman Jacob Buchanan said that even though he has never used a Spin scooter before, he thinks that they’re not a bad thing for the campus.

“Maybe there should be more regulation about how they're kept because they're thrown in the river,” Buchanan said. “I know a couple of people don't like them. That might be one of the reasons (they are thrown) in the river, but I just assume people think it's funny for some reason.” 

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Supply chain management sophomore Eric Valverde said he thinks Spin scooters have a positive impact on campus. Despite there being controversy around how the scooters are treated, Valverde said he has not heard fellow students talk negatively about their impact. 

“I think the spin scooters are really valuable because it offers an alternative form of transportation, especially for students that are really cramped on time and don't have the money to buy an electric scooter unit," Valverde said. "It could be a really great way to kind of get from point A to point B.”

Valverde said that even though the scooters offer convenience to many students, he thinks that most scooters end up in the river due to how close they are. 

“I think another reason could be the fact that especially during the night time, a lot of students when they get intoxicated, do things that they wouldn't normally do when they were sober, and oftentimes that can mean doing something reckless,” Valverde said. “I think that the Spin scooter is just an available way for them to kind of commit an act of recklessness.”

Valverde said scooters ending up in the river can be a pain to most people, especially those who remove them from the river.


The pile of recovered trash, including a Spin scooter in the Red Cedar River during the river cleanup on April 9, 2022.

What's the danger of throwing a scooter in the river?

If an individual is caught throwing a scooter into the Red Cedar River, they would be charged with malicious destruction of property, with anything else being counted as littering, according to MSU Department of Police and Public Safety spokesperson Dana Whyte.

If a scooter with a battery causes any type of environmental hazard, that could be a felony and may be an Environmental Protection Agency violation, Whyte said. 

Valverde said that if Spin scooters containing lithium batteries are thrown into the Red Cedar River, it could serve as a potential danger to any living creatures that are part of the river’s habitat. 

“When you kind of combine (the batteries) with throwing them into the river, it does pose the possibility for the wildlife to be harmed," Valverde said.


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