Get Ready for Citywide Dockless Bike-Share (and the Return of Scooters)

Scooter companies barged in uninvited and immediately gained a following, leading the city to quickly develop a permit system for fleets of bikes and scooters.

Dockless bikes at a designated parking area at the University RTD station. Photo: David Sachs
Dockless bikes at a designated parking area at the University RTD station. Photo: David Sachs

While “scooter wars” have dominated the headlines, a consequential bit of news went overlooked: As of Friday, dockless bike-share is legal citywide. So are scooter fleets, sort of.

Locals and visitors can expect both of these free-floating transport options on the street within two to three weeks, according to Denver Public Works.

DPW created the new type of permit [PDF] after scooter companies Lime and Bird set up shop last month. The companies were uninvited — and their products sometimes blocked sidewalks — but the nimble, zippy scooters immediately gained a following. Besides, Mayor Michael Hancock says he wants more people to get around car-free. So the streets department has cleared a path for the scooter companies to return.

Dockless bike-share companies like Ofo and Lime will also be eligible to apply through the same permitting process, and a rep from Ofo said they would. Here’s a look at the rules Denver has set up for these companies to operate on public streets.

Fleet caps

Each bike-share company is allowed to deploy a combined fleet of 400 bikes (conventional or electric) at first. Each scooter company is limited to fleets of 250. For comparison, Denver B-cycle has 737 bikes.

DPW can adjust those caps at any time during what it’s calling a one-year “pilot.”

In case you’re wondering, the city does not regulate the number of Car2go vehicles allowed on city streets.

Incentives for equitable distribution

Dockless bike-share and scooter-share companies can add another 100 vehicles to their fleets if they ensure that at least 100 remain available in low-income neighborhoods that lack good transportation options (here’s the DPW map). The companies would have to re-balance their fleets continuously to ensure 100 bikes are available in these “opportunity” neighborhoods at any given time.

Before receiving a permit, DPW will also require companies to outline how people without smartphones, credit cards, or bank accounts can use the bikes and scooters.

Current scooter regulations are outdated

Unlike bikes, Denver’s rules for electric scooters aren’t well-developed. They’re considered “toy vehicles” under the law, meaning people can’t ride them in streets or bike lanes and in fact have to ride them on sidewalks. That’s a problem, because they go 15 mph, which poses a danger to other people on the sidewalk.

Nancy Kuhn, a spokesperson for DPW, would not say whether the agency will recommend policy changes to the Denver City Council.

“This pilot program is a temporary way to explore how these vehicles interact with other modes in the right of way,” she said. While they’re only technically allowed on sidewalks, scooter riders must yield to pedestrians under the law. DPW is “coordinating” with the Denver Police Department to enforce that rule, Kuhn said.

Sharing data

The companies will have to share some trip data with DPW, specifically the trips per vehicle per day, and the origin and destination of each trip.

Companies will also have to survey their customers every three months and share the data with the city so staff can better understand who is using the dockless services and what they’re using them for — valuable information that can inform the city’s larger transportation plans.

Paying to play

Bike companies will pay $15,000 for a permit if their applications are approved, plus $20 per vehicle. Scooter companies will pay the same annual permit fee, but will be charged $30 per vehicle.

That money will help the city repair property damage, enforce parking rules, and conduct data analysis.

Parking matters

Speaking of parking, the companies will have to paint designated parking zones across the city — one zone per 10 vehicles — outside the path of people walking and using wheelchairs.

Customers will have to park either in one of the designated zones or within 25 feet of a bus stop or rail station, according to the rules, which DPW says are designed to “enhance transit.” Customers will have to park the vehicles in a way that leaves five feet of sidewalk clearance for pedestrians and wheelchair users — but there’s nothing in the regulations spelling out how this rule will be enforced.

So much for that other dockless bike-share pilot

Dockless bike-share already exists on city streets on a limited basis through a 200-vehicle University of Denver pilot, which has been pretty successful. It’s sanctioned by DPW, but only open to people with DU email addresses.

That test was going to shape the city’s dockless bike-share policy, which was due out sometime next year. Not anymore — the companies have accelerated that process.

  • gojoblogo

    As an avid bike rider, I believe that bike lanes are the rational location for scooters whenever possible. The scooters are too fast for the sidewalk and too slow and unstable for high-speed arterials. I think they could have a fine relationships with bikes. When they were previously on the street I both rode them in the bike lane and rode along with them as a biker and both felt totally fine to me.

    On another note, the vehicle cap at 250 seems really low. Their utility is only evident when you can find one within a minute or so of looking.

    • kyle

      Like there isn’t enough e-traffic in the bike lanes already…. I ride my bike to work every single day into downtown Denver and while the bike lanes may seem like a rational location for scooters it isn’t practical. People operating the scooters didn’t seem to pay attention to anything around them other than their cell phone, causing many to swerve and veer all over the place. While i appreciate the efficiencies afforded by unique forms of transportation, the city places responsibility on the companies to oversee the placement of their flerg, but I’m skeptical that they will do anything to emforce the rules. Even when i ride out of the city to cherry Creek reservoir on the bike path, it’s not uncommon to see the dockless bikes dumped all over the place, including the river, storm drains and other obscure places. Won’t be long before we have a bike/scooter graveyard just like china. Can’t wait.

      • gojoblogo

        For the record, I bike into downtown Denver every single day as well. I agree there needs to be enforcement for storage and also common decency surrounding use of shared facilities. That having been said, there is no better place for the scooters than the bike lane. We are not going to create a scooter lane, I wouldn’t imagine. High traffic and high speed roads are too dangerous for the scooters and sidewalks are too dangerous for pedestrians. Your complaints seem to be more about people’s behavior than the use of the technology itself. Unfortunately that is going to be a problem no matter where they are. For me though, my annoyance is trumped by severe injury or death and that is the thing we need to solve for.

    • crevasse

      I know this is late, but I’m kind of in disagreement with allowing the current version of e-bikes on the bike paths, especially the private bikes. Reason being is that they seem to be able to move much faster than a) average human powered machines and b) the POSTED speed limit on paths. The kinetic and potential energy and general lack of concern is literally going to kill a pedestrian cyclist at some point. Then what? It’s turning bike paths into streets. And we all know that the subsequent versions of these machines are just going to get faster and faster. I’ve already seen what formerly looked like mopeds now with electric motors. Should those be allowed? It’s already incompatible, it will only get worse, but will be more difficult to walk back after too long.

      • gojoblogo

        E-bikes are a different story and I agree that when they hit some threshold speed (not sure what that is…25?) they are no longer compatible with the bike lanes. The current E-assist bikes are not much faster but there are others with small motors that actually propel them like a light motorcycle. These need to be thought about a little more critically.

  • Sarah Bohr

    I think it would be useful to be able to park the scooters next to bike racks as well. They’re already out of the way of sidewalks and would add a lot of convenience. I also second @gojoblogo:disqus that allowing scooters in the bike lanes makes a lot of sense.

  • Trinkar

    Please don’t allow these things on sidewalks. I am elderly and have osteoporosis and a back injury. I can’t afford a car. Nearly every time I go out I have a near-death experience from cars, skateboards, or bikes. If I now have to avoid scooters going 15 mph I probably won’t be able to go out at all. BTW, my hairdresser, who also owns a bar in LoDo, says of scooters, “you put a drunk person on one of those and it’s as bad as a car.”


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