The Waco City Council will work to determine Tuesday whether electric scooters often found for rent in metropolitan areas would benefit a growing downtown Waco.
Though the vehicles unlocked by smartphone apps and a small fee have been considered solutions to transportation deficiencies in dense urban spaces, they can also create concerns over safety and aesthetics.
City staff is seeking direction from the council on the issue because the three vendors vying for a planned bike-share program suggested other “shared mobility devices” within their bids. The city has yet to sign any agreement with the potential vendors, which include Zagster Inc., Veoride Inc. and Gotcha Bikes LLC.
The discussion at the 3 p.m. council meeting will come almost four months after a scooter company, Bird Rides, suddenly invaded downtown sidewalks and the Baylor University area in violation of a city ordinance forbidding businesses to operate on public property. The scooters were gone two days later at the insistence of City Hall.
Bird scooters are unlocked by a smartphone app. Users pay a base fee of $1 per ride plus 20 cents per minute and are required by the company to supply and wear helmets. They may not be used on sidewalks, and the company picks up the vehicles each night to recharge them before placing them back each morning.
Local governments around the country have debated how best to regulate the trend and prepare adequate infrastructure for it. An average scooter can go as fast as 15 mph.
“In general, bikes and scooters and other types of shared mobility devices can work well in an environment that has connectivity, whether that’s something like bike lanes or bike paths or adequate spaces for parking,” said Chelsea Phlegar, a senior planner with the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization. “I think it works well in more urbanized areas where potential destinations are kind of close together, and in areas where people expect to see a mix of modes.”
Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford said the discussion scheduled for Tuesday does not come in response to the Bird episode.
“We want it done in an organized fashion,” Ford said of any potential downtown transportation initiative.
Tasked with studying the viability of a bike-share program, a working group comprised of city staffers, representatives of the downtown Public Improvement District and members of the local biking community concluded in April that a hybrid model of docked and “dockless” models would be best suited for Waco. Public bike racks, ground-level docks and “geofencing,” which uses GPS for virtual perimeters, would hold the bikes.
Mayor Kyle Deaver has said the city council generally supports a bike-share program. And in July, the council approved an ordinance revision to allow bike-share vendors to operate on city property, but scooters and other “shared mobility devices” are not addressed in city regulations.
“Generally, downtown areas are good places to start, but as you build awareness for these kinds of uses, you can build that kind of culture pretty quickly,” Phlegar said.