Changes to the city’s ordinance include a speed limit of 20 mph, restrictions on nighttime riding and larger fees for vendors. But some worry those costs could run companies out during economic uncertainty.
For four months, Dallas staffers and council members had planned to pass tighter regulations on thousands of electric scooters scattered mostly around downtown, Deep Ellum and Uptown.
But as the Dallas City Council on Wednesday approved those rules and heftier fees for the companies that deploy them, many scooters had already begun to disappear as economic uncertainty loomed over the industry.
Assistant City Manager Majed al-Ghafry said two of the scooter companies, Ojo and Lime, temporarily removed their dockless vehicles “as a precaution” in the past several days, and he doesn’t know when they’ll come back.
That may have left less than half of the 13,000 scooters that were deployed before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the city.
In a blog post last week, Lime CEO Brad Bao said the company has suspended its service in all of its markets “to reflect public health guidance.”
That didn’t stop council members from passing changes to the dockless vehicles ordinance, which was set to expire next week. In a 14-1 vote, council members approved regulations that implement stricter rules for riders and significantly increase fees for scooter operators.
Companies will now pay $2,000 to apply for an operating permit, up from $808, and $1,000 to renew it. They will also be charged a $35 annual fee per vehicle and a 20-cent fee per scooter ride. Al-Ghafry said he’d like to revisit the fines, which could be adjusted if needed.
City officials said the fees would help raise revenue for Dallas’ infrastructure needs. But council members discussed at length whether the annual fee was appropriate given the anticipated economic decline.
An amendment by Adam Bazaldua, who represents South Dallas and parts of East Dallas, narrowly passed, reducing the annual fee to $35 from the proposed $60 per vehicle. The annual fee is currently $21 per vehicle. It also sets aside $5 of that amount for a separate “equity” fund to help deploy scooters in underserved areas.
David Blewett, whose council district represents parts of downtown and Uptown, said the only way scooters can survive in Dallas is if they ensure operators don’t pull them out. The city’s revenues could suffer if they all left, he said.
“I think we need to be sensitive to the headwinds that they’re looking at and not overburden them, thinking we’re going to get access to all these revenues,” Blewett said. He added later, “I want these scooters to exist.”
Other council members wanted to keep the annual fees at $60 per vehicle and said that any less would reduce revenues.
Council member Cara Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas, said the city needs safer streets. But infrastructure improvements can’t happen if the city doesn’t have money, she said.
Michael Rogers, the city’s transportation director, said the new fees can bring in more than $1 million a year. About $600,000 would go toward infrastructure needs, he said, and the city also plans to hire four more parking enforcement officers.
Council member Lee Kleinman, who represents part of northern Dallas, also wanted the annual fee to remain at $60. He said companies weren’t willing to negotiate with city officials, who offered a lower fee in exchange for placing more scooters in underserved areas.
After dockless rental bikes struggled to become profitable in Dallas, city officials hoped the more popular scooters would offer a cheap last-mile option for commuters who use public transit. But they’ve struggled to respond to complaints about safety and accessibility as the vehicles clutter the sidewalks.
Staffers were initially scheduled to provide an updated ordinance in November but asked for a four-month extension. In June 2018, council members lifted a ban on motorized scooters to encourage alternative means of transportation.
Other regulations now include a 20 mph speed limit, a ban on rides after midnight — 9 p.m. for Deep Ellum — and fines for companies if they leave a vehicle parked incorrectly. The transportation director has the authority to change time restrictions. If the city notifies them of a violation between 5 a.m. and midnight, operators must respond within two hours.
The ordinance also provides the city with more teeth for operators who don’t maintain or pick up their scooters and requires a cash option to pay for the rides. Rogers plans to contract a vendor for data collection on the scooters.
The city’s Transportation Department can pick up the vehicles and store them for a $50 fee, and companies are fined $25 daily if the scooters are impounded for more than two days. The operators are also responsible for reimbursing the city for any expenses to store them.
The ordinance also bans riding scooters on sidewalks and imposes a $200 fine on riders who don’t follow the rules.