In a period of uncertainty over electric scooters, the Dallas City Council approved tougher rules and higher fees for companies
Changes to the city's regulations include a 20mph limit, restrictions on night-time cycling and higher fees for suppliers.But some worry that these costs could drain the company during periods of economic uncertainty.
In four months 'time, Dallas workers and city council members plan to pass tough regulations to regulate thousands of scooters, mostly in downtown, near Deep Ellum and Uptown.
But with the Dallas City Council approving the rules on Wednesday and charging higher fees for companies that deploy them, many scooters have begun to disappear because of economic uncertainty in the industry.
Majed al-Ghafry, an assistant city manager, said two scooter companies, Ojo and Lime, had temporarily removed driverless vehicles in the past few days "as a precaution" but he did not know when he would return.
This may be only half of the 13,000 scooters deployed before the coronavirus pandemic shuts down the city.
Brad Bao, Chief executive of Lime, said in a blog post last week that the company had suspended services in all its markets to "reflect public health guidance".
But that hasn't stopped council members from making changes to the dockless cars ordinance, which expires next week.By a vote of 14 to 1, board members approved legislation that would impose stricter rules on cyclists and significantly increase fees for electric scooter operators.
The company will now pay $2,000 to apply for a license to operate, up from $808 and $1,000 to renew.They will also be charged an annual fee of $35 per vehicle and 20 cents per scooter.Al-ghafry said he would like to reconsider the fine and adjust it if necessary.
City officials say the fees will help increase revenue for Dallas' infrastructure needs.However, members of the Board discussed at length the appropriateness of the annual fee in view of the expected economic downturn.
Adam Bazaldua, who represents parts of South and East Dallas, narrowly approved the amendment, which would reduce the annual fee to $35 per car from the proposed $60.The current annual fee is $21 per car.It also allocated $5 from this amount to an additional "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 could survive in Dallas was to make sure their operators didn't pull them out.If they all leave, he said, the city's tax revenue could be affected.
"I think we need to be sensitive to the negatives they face, rather than overburdening them with the idea that we're going to get all this revenue," Blewett says.He later added, "I hope these scooters exist."
Other council members want to keep the annual fee at $60 per car, and say any reduction would reduce revenue.
Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn, who represents North Dallas, said the city needed safer streets.But if the city does not have the money, she says, the infrastructure cannot be improved.
Michael Rogers, the city's transportation director, said the new fees could bring in more than $1 million a year.About $600,000 will be spent on infrastructure, he said, and the city plans to hire four more parking enforcement officers.
Councilman Lee Kleinman, who represents a part of North Dallas, also wants the annual fee to stay around $60.He said the company was reluctant to negotiate with city officials, who offered lower fees in exchange for more scooters in underserved areas.
After Dallas' dockless rental bikes struggled to make money, city officials hope the most popular scooters will offer commuters a cheap last-mile option on public transportation.But they have been struggling to respond to complaints about safety and accessibility as vehicles litter the sidewalks.
The original plan was to provide employees with the updated rules in November, but it asked for a four-month extension.In June 2018, council members lifted the ban on electric scooters to encourage alternative modes of transport.
Now, other rules include a 20mph limit, a ban on bike-deep Ellum after midnight - 9pm - and fines for companies that don't park their vehicles properly.The transportation supervisor has the right to change the time limit.If the city notifies them of a violation between 5 a.m. and midnight, operators must respond within two hours.
The ordinance also gives the city more options for operators who do not maintain or pedal their carcars, and requires a cash option to pay.Rogers plans to contract with suppliers to collect data on the pedals.
The city's department of Transportation can charge $50 for the vehicle, and companies can be fined $25 a day if the scooter is held for more than two days.The operator is also responsible for reimbursing the city for any fees it charges for storing them.
The ordinance also prohibits pedaling on sidewalks and imposes a $200 fine on riders who don't follow the rules.