A company pulled the plug on a pilot program that was supposed to bring electric bikes and scooters to downtown Waco this summer, prompting the city of Waco to try again.
Gotcha LLC was supposed to place 50 e-bikes and 50 e-scooters on downtown streets for rent under an agreement the Waco City Council approved in April. A rollout was originally planned for June but ran into delays. The city on Oct. 31 released a request for proposals for a new pilot program for “shared mobility” devices.
“They’ve had some trouble getting the e-bikes here, but also more importantly we think it’s good to create more flexibility,” Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford said. “People want to do scooters more than bikes now, and in that pilot we were off-track with that.”
This time around, companies can pitch whatever kind of pilot program they think will be successful, whether it’s a fleet that’s entirely e-bikes, entirely e-scooters or a mix of the two. Bids will close Dec. 5.
“Reopening the bid allows us to do some more flexible service deliveries,” Ford said. “I think that meets where the market is going, and the scooter share and bike share world. It’s so fast-moving. When we released it six months ago, things were completely different.”
As in the first RFP, the city is asking for information from bidders about their experience managing an orderly program, managing device clutter and using technology such as geofencing to prevent their devices of choice from winding up in unauthorized areas.
Shared mobility programs have popped up in Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas, Denton and other major cities throughout the state, occasionally hitting snags and becoming a public nuisance when implemented poorly. Waco passed an ordinance to allow shared mobility programs within the city earlier this year.
In August 2018, the scooter company Bird Rides scattered its scooters throughout downtown and the Baylor campus without giving warning or asking permission. The city removed the scooters after a two-day run.
While there are some differences between the two RFPs, professional requirements for the companies applying will remain the same. The program will be restricted to downtown Waco and East Waco, but the service area will exclude Baylor University and Cameron Park.
“We need to be a little bit less prescriptive in what we ask for,” Chelsea Phlegar, a senior planner with the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization. “That will allow us to be more responsive to the constant changes in the market.”
Gotcha had planned to build parking hubs throughout the service area. The new proposal still requires some form of controlled parking, but allows for different kinds of parking and racks.
“What that actually looks like, we’re leaving up to the company to pitch it to us,” Phlegar said.
According to a National Association of City Transportation Officials study released in April 2019, non-electric, dockless pedal bicycles that dominated the market in 2017 became less common nationally and only remain in a handful of American cities, and electric bikes became the more prevalent option. Meanwhile, e-scooters overtook both categories of bicycle.
“Early e-scooter adopter cities include Santa Monica and Austin, and e-scooter companies expanded to many more cities from there, with about 26 formal e-scooter share pilots across the U.S. launching between July and September,” the study states. “Venture capital-backed ride-hail companies began investing large sums in shared micromobility companies, with Uber acquiring Jump Bikes and Lyft acquiring Motivate, the operator of the five largest docked bike share systems in the U.S.”