No-fee scooter deal stalls as City Council raise more concerns

Electric scooters are strewn across the sidewalk along Platte Street in LoHi. City Council members are considering a new approach to the micromobility industry, but a proposal has been stuck in committee. (BusinessDen file photo)

The future of Denver’s electric scooters remains uncertain.

On Tuesday, after a second visit with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, a City Council committee tasked with determining the next step in the city’s approach to “micromobility” was still stuck on many of the finer points of the plan.

At issue is DOTI’s proposal to offer exclusive licenses to just two companies providing electric scooters and bikes to the city’s short-distance travelers, Lyft and Lime.

The companies would not pay anything for the licenses, although they would have to agree to a number of city requests involving geographic distribution, free ride provisions and parking compliance.

A week ago, multiple council members expressed concern about providing the licenses for free. That issue remained Tuesday, but members also highlighted what they see as a lack of compliance by current operators and poor transparency on the part of city staff.

“I asked for a copy of the contract, even though it’s not finalized, and I was told no,” Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said. “That’s challenging for me to move this out of committee.”

A Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca-led motion passed 5-2 to delay moving the proposal to the City Council as a whole until after another committee meeting to be held April 27.

Councilman Chris Herndon and Councilwoman Kendra Black were the no votes, expressing a desire to move the proposal forward.

DOTI acting chief of staff Nicholas Williams addressed the previous concerns about the lack of payments, by saying that, while comparable cities take in as much as $600,000 a year by charging per licensed scooter, his department estimated Denver’s proposal was worth about $26 million to the city over the course of the proposed five-year contract.

That value, Williams said, would come in the form of the associated requirements related to ensuring consistent distribution across all parts of the city regardless of income level, provisions of parking infrastructure and various forms of public outreach and education.

He also discussed in greater detail the city’s plans for enforcing elements of the agreement — fleet reduction after significant violations, most notably — and how the program might lead to improved emissions data as fewer car trips were required.

Some council members remained skeptical.

Sandoval took issue with the compliance aspect as it pertained to parking, noting anecdotally the preponderance of mis-parked scooters and bikes just in front of her own council office on Platte Street.

“If one of our tools is fleet reduction, but one of our goals is equity, and you’ve already said we’re not compliant — I mean, I see older couples walking along Platte and they have to move the bikes,” Sandoval said. “If we’re starting the program non-compliant, and we all know, scooters and bikes are everywhere, if our goal is equity but the tool is fleet reduction, how do we get equity if we do that when we’re not compliant?”

Williams said that the operators would be mandated, should a punitive fleet reduction occur, not to remove vehicles from “opportunity areas,” or those of lower income concentration.

He added the department believes the threat of fleet reduction will improve scooter littering issues.

But how exactly that would happen put DOTI and the committee at odds as well.

Williams said the plan is for existing right-of-way enforcement officers to alert Lyft and Lime to mis-parked vehicles in the course of the officers’ regular activities on their beats.

Sandoval wasn’t having it.

“With all due respect, I’ve heard from people who have different challenges along different corridors where there’s really no parking enforcement, and it’s because we don’t have a lot of parking enforcement employees,” she said. “I don’t think it’s just a little bit more work added. I think everybody, all public city employees, are working more now with less resources than ever. So to say adding a little workload without having a full body, I have tension with that.”

A man rides a Lime scooter on the sidewalk near Capitol Hill. (BusinessDen file)

CdeBaca’s concerns focused on details of the infrastructure plan, which obligates the vehicle providers to create various parking structures for the scooters and bikes, ranging from painted boxes on the sidewalk to physical corrals and docking stations.

“It doesn’t help me to see the cost and not understand the minimum requirements,” CdeBaca said, pointing out the absence of specifics in DOTI’s presentation regarding this obligation.

She further expressed frustration with the move toward two companies only, as well as the plan for violation enforcements to be dealt with so distinctly from standard vehicle violations.

She further elaborated in an email to BusinessDen Tuesday.

“I do not believe that creating a 5-year duopoly for a public good makes sense for Denver right now,” CdeBaca wrote in an email sent by a spokesperson. “The numerous enforcement and infrastructure concerns raised by residents throughout the pilot will go virtually unaddressed. In ordinance, we treat scooters as vehicles, therefore permitting and citations of any fleet should be treated consistently with car fleets.”

The various issues with lack of specificity were highlighted by Sandoval, who pointed out she’d asked for the licensing agreement during the week, was denied that request and was told it would be revealed to the full City Council.

“It doesn’t feel 100 percent transparent,” she said. “You’re asking me to vote on something to move to my colleagues — we’re often told we’re doing committee work on the floor, well it’s because we are. I know they change, but you are reading from this contract and I asked for a copy to read for myself and answer some questions. I was told no. That impacts how I feel about this moving forward.”

BusinessDen asked DOTI last week for the proposals from the companies that submitted bids for the license, as well as details of the agreement with Lyft and Lime. The department said it would release that information, if requested, only after the licenses are approved.

Herndon, who chairs the committee, had a different take on the matter.

“It’s not about creating scooters,” he said. “They’re here. It’s about moving from a pilot program to a permanent one. If you support that, you’ll vote to move forward. I say this tongue in cheek, but I’d like the same problem of scooters all over my district that some of you have, because there are none in District 8. That’s my frustration. People in District 8 haven’t had the opportunity to utilize this, and I’m excited about this equity program. I have questions about the length, like others, and about just two providers. But I’m comfortable moving it forward.”

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