Denton said no for now to rental electric scooters.
In a council work session this week, members dispatched housekeeping and budget items, including renewing a longstanding contract with the Denton Chamber of Commerce and considering scooters.
Council members left the door open for scooter rental business in the future, but will ban them for now. The business model rents “dockless” electric scooters via smartphone app rather than from a fixed location, such as a dock installed at a train or bus station.
Marc Oliphant, Denton’s new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, told council members Tuesday evening that scooters have shown up in cities like dockless bicycles have been.
“They have a history of just showing up overnight in cities uninvited, with the philosophy that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission,” Oliphant said.
Venture capitalists are backing the new technology projects knowing they are disruptive, he added.
Scooters are considered a simple, accessible form of transportation. And the scooters have an important difference from bicycles, Oliphant said.
“Because they have a battery, they must be picked up and charged, at least every night,” he said.
Denton had trouble last year when a fleet of dockless bikes from Garland-based VBikes showed up in June. Complaints followed as riders left the bikes parked in the street, blocking sidewalks or on private property. The City Council adopted a pilot set of rules requiring dockless bikes be repositioned each night in places acceptable to the city along with other requirements.
VBikes withdrew from the city, but two other companies agreed to the city’s pilot program. Spin has an agreement for its bikes to hub at Texas Woman’s University.
VeoRide unveiled its service at the University of North Texas with the start of classes this week.
Neither UNT nor TWU is interested in having scooters on campus, Oliphant said.
Fort Worth and Waco have banned dockless scooters. Other Texas cities have allowed the scooters to stay — for example, Austin, Plano and Dallas.
Oliphant told council members that an update to Denton’s ordinance for dockless bikes to cover all dockless “mobility devices” would probably cover it.
“Some cities have had very good experiences,” he said, adding that dockless scooters have been in Washington, D.C., for about 18 months.
Oliphant told the council that, if they eventually agree to scooters, they should probably determine whether they can regulate them as a motor vehicle. If so, the rules of the road would apply, including drunken driving laws.
Council member Gerard Hudspeth was ready to approve the scooters now, saying the business presented a new opportunity: People can earn money rounding up scooters and charging them.
“They are all over Dallas,” Hudspeth said. “They are getting used.”
But council member John Ryan joined others in saying the city needs more information and data before permitting scooters.
“We need people to learn how to use these in other cities before they try to use it in ours,” Ryan said.
The ban won’t be official until the council adopts an ordinance at a future meeting.
Chamber of commerce contract
Council members agreed to renew for another year a long-running contract with the Denton Chamber of Commerce for support with economic development.
The contract amount — $238,836 — is the same for 2018-19 as it was for 2017-18, but includes additional measures of accountability.
Economic development director Caroline Booth said the chamber met similar metrics this year. The accountability measures were introduced last year.
Council member Paul Meltzer said he hoped the city might be able to learn more about the various metrics in relation to the city’s goals of recruiting more businesses with higher-paying jobs.
“How much do we need to be doing?” Meltzer said. “What if we’re not doing enough?”
Booth said economic development was hard to measure, since much of the work is about building a healthy community.
“But I appreciate what you’re trying to say and where you are going with it,” Booth said, adding she would do more research on the question.
Council member Keely Briggs said she would prefer the contract be funded from the general fund or at least be provided more information that showed the benefit of paying part of the contract from utility funds.
The cost of the contract is shared five ways, from the general fund and all four utility funds.