E-scooters on a side walk in Denver's Capitol Hill Neighborhood.  4 scooters, 3 standing 1 knocked down. (copy)

Rentable electric scooters on a sidewalk in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The e-scooters and shared bikes pilot, launched in Denver in 2018, is now being considered as a permanent program, with various changes proposed. 

The Denver City Council Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee pushed back its vote on proposed changes to electric scooter, electric bike and shared bike operations Tuesday, opting to reconsider the proposals in late April.

If approved, the proposals would provide five-year licensing agreements to the transportation companies Lyft and Lime, limiting operating rights for rentable e-scooters and bikes in Denver to those two companies.

The proposals would also change the number of e-scooters and bikes in the city, where they are distributed and how they are parked.

The motion to delay was proposed by Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who expressed concern about not having access to the proposed contracts and the lack of detail in the proposals’ parking plans for e-scooters and bikes while they’re not being used.

“It sounds like it’s a pretty important part of the plan to have these spaces determined,” CdeBaca said. “Why are we moving forward without the plan being complete?”

Nicholas Williams, acting chief of staff of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the proposals include parking stations that would range from charging stations and corrals, to boxes painted on the ground and virtual corrals visible through an app.

Williams said DOTI wants to move forward with the proposals now to get them off of the ground and respond to current issues, as the parking stations will take time to roll out. DOTI expects to establish 100 stations within six months and up to 300 within three years.

“Some days, I can’t leave my office because there’s scooters in front of my doors,” Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said. “I see older couples walking along Platte Street and they have to move the bikes out of the way. If you’re in a wheelchair or if you’re not able bodied, you can’t do that.”

To address this, the proposals would also issue parking citations and other violations directly to the operating companies Lyft and Lime. The companies would be responsible for moving improperly parked vehicles, with complaints made to 311 being directly transferred to the companies.

Williams said this is because it’s difficult to trace users to the parking jobs as people can move or knock over vehicles after they’ve been parked; however, CdeBaca argued that it wouldn’t be difficult since companies already require users to send a photo of the vehicles after they’ve been parked.

“If it’s the companies that stand to benefit the most from operating these, it should be on them to remedy the issues as we see them,” said DOTI Senior City Planner Stephen Rijo. “Regardless of who’s at fault … the operators are on the hook to solve that.”

Rijo added that the operator companies would also be free to investigate issues and penalize users on their end how they see fit.

Denver’s right of way enforcement agents, who provide services such as issuing parking tickets, would be in charge of watching for and reporting improperly parked e-scooters and bikes during their normal activities – a proposal some council members took issue with.

After discussion, the committee decided to delay voting on the proposals 5-2, with only Councilman Christopher Herndon and Councilwoman Kendra Black voting against the delay.

Herndon argued that everyone should want to advance the proposals to help solve current issues, whether or not the proposals are perfect or they like having e-scooters and bikes in the city.

“This isn’t a conversation about creating scooters, the scooters are already here. It’s a matter of moving forward from a pilot program to a more permeant one,” Herndon said.

“I would like to have the same problem that Councilwoman Sandoval has of scooters laying throughout her district because there are no scooters in District 8. For people in District 8, we have not had the opportunity to utilize this.”

The proposals include plans to improve equitable access to e-scooters and bikes, with 30% of fleets required to operate in areas with low vehicle ownership and high transit ridership. These “opportunity areas” include parts of the City Park West, Five Points, East Colfax and Lincoln Park neighborhoods.

Williams said this would increase the number of e-scooters and bikes in districts without them, while hopefully also addressing the overabundance of e-scooters and bikes on the sidewalks of central districts.

Overall, the proposals would increase the number of e-scooters and bikes in Denver, allowing Lyft and Lime 1,500 e-scooters and 300 bikes each. Currently, 3,340 total vehicles are permitted in the city through six different companies.

However, there is a possibility for fleet reductions if a company is found to violate contract conditions by, for example, deploying more than the permitted amount of vehicles or having frequent parking violations.

For the first violation, the company’s fleet would be reduced by 10% for 30 days; for the second, 25% for 30 days; for the third, the operating license would be suspended for 30 days.

“Fleet reduction amounts do not come from opportunity areas,” Williams said. “Operators are still expected to put the 30% of what their full fleet would’ve been. We don’t want to punish these areas as we reduce the fleets.”

The current six transportation companies would be limited to just Lyft and Lime in the proposals to allow for greater simplicity and investments, while still maintaining market competition.

Lyft and Lime would also be required to equip vehicles with geofencing technology that would automatically slow them down in high-traffic areas and offer subsidized passes to attract new ridership. The current contracts require the companies to each distribute 5,280 free passes to Denver residents.

E-scooters and shared bikes have been in Denver since the Dockless Mobility Pilot Program was launched in 2018. Since then, over 6.1 million people have used the scooters and over 325,000 people have used the bikes, according to DOTI.

The Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will reconsider the proposals on April 27. If approved, the proposals will then need to pass a full City Council vote.

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