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 transportation committee approved major changes to the city’s electric scooter, electric bike and shared bike operations Tuesday, sending the proposal to the full City Council for a vote.

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

The proposal passed committee in a 5-2 vote, with Councilwomen Candi CdeBaca and Amanda Sandoval voting against it. They both took issue with the duration of the contracts and the limitation to only two companies.

“It’s exactly where it was when we said it wasn’t ready last time,” said CdeBaca, who introduced the measure to postpone the proposal last month. “I feel like we’re being backed into a corner to vote this down.”

While multiple City Council members have requested that the proposal be changed to allow for more than two provider companies, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure shot down the suggestion Tuesday.

Stephen Rijo, a transportation planner with DOTI, said providing near exclusivity to Lyft and Lime allowed the city to negotiate for more investment from the companies.

For example, the companies are investing just under $11 million for rider education and nearly $15 million of free and subsidized rides for Denver residents to attract new ridership.

“As you continue adding more and more operators, it dilutes the value that the city can extract from them,” Rijo said.

Rijo also defended the decision to use five-year contracts, saying they allow the companies more time and incentive to invest into Denver compared to one- to two-year contracts that some council members proposed.

Sandoval's issue with the contracts had more to do with the speed at which change happens in the tech industry and possible changes in priority by the companies.

“We’re tying ourselves to something for five years when the technology is ever-changing,” Sandoval said. “These car-backed companies are going to invest in their cars more than their micro-mobility.”

Rijo said the long contracts were also a compromise to allow the city to invest less subsidies into the companies.

To that, Sandoval argued that allowing the companies to operate on Denver’s right of way was a subsidy and that “once you give our right-of-way away you can’t get it back,” a claim disputed by Councilwoman Kendra Black.

“What I see in the presentation is they actually have to get a permit to be in the right-of-way, and it’s renewed annually,” Black said. “We could not give them the permit. It’s not forever.”

One of the most significant changes to Denver’s current e-scooter and bike operations is the proposal’s planned implementation of parking stations that would range from charging stations and corrals, to boxes painted on the ground and virtual corrals visible through an app.

This parking system would attempt to address the issue of e-scooters and bikes blocking sidewalks and laying on the ground.

Lyft and Lime would be responsible for installing the stations themselves, with 100 stations expected in the first six months, 200 in the first year and up to 675 for the five-year license duration.

The city will also issue parking citations and other violations directly to Lyft and Lime and, if a complaint is made about improperly parked vehicles to the city's 311 hotline, the companies will be required to fix them in a specified amount of time.

Areas that receive frequent 311 complaints will have Denver’s right-of-way enforcement agents assigned to watch for and report improperly parked vehicles during their normal activities.

“We’ve seen the issues. DOTI is not here to advocate for this use of right-of-way, and it not being handled correctly,” said Jason Gallardo, DOTI director of government affairs. “We’re here to say we’ve come up with a license program that will fix the problem.”

Gallardo said the biggest complaint about Denver’s current e-scooters is the disorganization, so the proposal would address the failure to keep e-scooters and bikes in proper parking areas with major penalties.

Three documented parking violations within 30 days would force companies to launch targeted in-person outreach for parking etiquette; 10 violations in 90 days would result in a 10% fleet reduction for 30 days; and 25 violations in 180 days would result in a suspension of the operating license for 20 days.

While council members advocated for tough enforcement, some expressed doubt that the companies would actually be able to live up to these regulations.

“I can’t believe that these companies can do that,” Councilman Paul Kashmann said.

“They will be compliant and we will hold them accountable,” Gallardo said.

Fleet reductions could also be implemented if a company is found to violate contract conditions like deploying more than the permitted amount of vehicles.

The proposal also includes 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.

“Fleet reduction amounts do not come from opportunity areas,” said Nicholas Williams, acting chief of staff of DOTI. “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.”

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.

Lyft and Lime would also be required to equip vehicles with geofencing technology that would automatically slow them down in high-traffic areas.

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 proposal will now need to pass a full City Council vote in the coming weeks to be implemented.

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