Memo on Dockless Scooters from Michael Moore, City Transportation Director

Here is the memo that I just received on dockless scooter:

 Background 

Dockless scooters, sometimes referred to as shared electric mobility scooters, were introduced to Raleigh in July 2018. Bird initially deployed approximately 150 dockless scooters in downtown Raleigh, Glenwood South, and Cameron Village; the Bird fleet has now grown to over 1100 scooters all over the city. Lime, the company that provides dockless bicycles to the North Carolina State University campus, later deployed approximately 200 dockless scooters in September. Neither company currently operates with permission or license from the City of Raleigh. 

Dockless scooters proponents say the scooters provide a viable low-cost mobility option for short trips, including first mile/last mile connections to transit and to parking. Dockless scooters can also increase the catchment area for businesses and community attractions. The reduction in automobile trips can help improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion. Opponents of the technology point out potentially negative consequences. Improperly parked scooters can impede sidewalks and create tripping hazards for pedestrians and the visually impaired, and scooter use (riding) on the sidewalk create additional hazards for pedestrians. Vehicular traffic is not yet accustomed to scooters utilizing the street space, and some scooter users are not observant of basic safety rules and parameters. 

Dockless scooter perceptions are further complicated in that the behavior of individual users are sometimes conflated with the conduct of the scooter companies. This perception is further complicated by the companies’ “hands-off” approach to self-policing. The existing regulatory environment is also an imperfect fit. For example, the State of North Carolina indicates that dockless scooters are best categorized as a “moped”, but the Department of Motor Vehicles has not aggressively enforced requirements for registration and license plates. In its pilot program for dockless vehicles, the City of Charlotte has elected to treat dockless scooters in a similar manner as bicycles due to their similar operating characteristics.

There are very strong opinions about the presence and operations of scooters in the Raleigh area. In an effort to realize the benefits and mitigate the negative effects of dockless scooters, the Department of Transportation, the City Attorney’s Office, and Raleigh Police Department have collaborated to produce a draft master encroachment agreement. A summary of the key terms of the agreement is attached to this memo. The master encroachment agreement can be the licensing/permitting mechanism for dockless scooter operators. The encroachment agreement terms include the rules and regulations for City Council’s consideration. This approach can also be the model for other shared mobility options like dockless bike share. While the agreement terms are largely based upon research and benchmarking of other cities’ regulations, they are heavily based on the City of Durham draft regulations and the Charlotte Pilot Program current regulations. 

Key Questions 

Dockless scooters present several important policy questions for City Council. Central to those questions is this – “are dockless scooters a valuable addition to Raleigh’s mobility options and can the safety and welfare of users and pedestrians be preserved during their operations?” Secondly, “can dockless scooters be staged by both the company and the individual user to ensure clear and safe access along city sidewalks and minimize impacts to our neighborhoods?” and “should the City permit a private, for-profit company access to the City’s right-of-way for the purposes of offering this mobility service?” We can offer some perspective on each of these, but ultimately Council will set the policy direction for any future actions. Let’s consider these questions in reverse order. 

“Should the City permit a private, for-profit company access to the City’s right-of-way for the purposes of offering this mobility service?” 

The City of Raleigh has permitted private uses of the public right-of-way for a variety of uses ranging from utility installations to outdoor café seating. These uses have been permitted through either a major or minor encroachment agreement. Each agreement has standard language addressing concerns about indemnity, insurance, duration, etc. and language outlining specific terms and conditions for the use of the right of way. For example, hours of operation or road restoration requirements may be included. The master encroachment agreement proposed for dockless scooter licensing/permitting is a subset of the major encroachment agreement category and follows this same model. 

The master encroachment agreement includes the rules and regulations for dockless scooter company operations. The agreement is a versatile permitting structure, regardless of the process (first come/first serve, request for proposals, etc.) for determining which companies Raleigh may allow to operate. The master encroachment will also collect fees based on the number of dockless scooters operated by each company. When benchmarked against other cities, the proposed “per scooter” fee is at the high end of the fee range. However, the initial application cost is low, and the fees will be used to offset program costs and scooter parking implementation. 

“Can dockless scooters be staged by both the company and the individual user to ensure clear and safe access along city sidewalks and minimize impacts to our neighborhoods?” 

The proposed master encroachment agreement terms address this question in several different ways. Several regulations specifically address how and where scooters can and cannot be parked and staged. For example, scooters cannot be left within the walk area of the sidewalk, cannot be placed in accessible curb ramps or in driveways, and are not allowed to block entries. Other regulations on scooter parking and staging address the clutter concern by limiting the number of scooters that may be staged on each block face (4 per operator) and prohibit parking scooters on streets without sidewalks. This rule addresses scooter placement in predominantly residential neighborhoods where sidewalks are sometimes absent. 

The agreement terms also provide the Department of Transportation latitude to further restrict parking and to prescribe designated parking areas in high pedestrian activity areas. Please note that the City will need to make investments to implement this approach. Operators will be responsible to re-park or remove improperly placed scooters within two hours of receipt of a complaint by any party. Operators are also required to remove scooters from the street each night. This last requirement ensures that dockless scooters are properly staged to start each day; it has the additional benefit of removing the scooters from the street late at night. 

The agreement terms also provide for a maximum fleet for each user (capped at 500) and for the City as a whole (capped at 1500). This cap will ensure that dockless scooters are staged in areas of high demand; however, as a condition of the master encroachment agreement, operators are required to deploy at least 20% of the fleet in underserved communities, as determined by the City. 

“Are dockless scooters a valuable addition to Raleigh’s mobility options and can the safety and welfare of the user and pedestrians be preserved in the course of their operations?” 

Several regulations included in the master encroachment agreement address the matter of safety for both users and pedestrians. The agreement terms clearly state that operating a dockless scooter on any sidewalk is prohibited. The terms require the statement “No Riding on Sidewalk” to be physically displayed on the scooter and prominently featured within the operator app. Regulations also include provisions to prohibit operating within certain areas like City garages and GoRaleigh Station. Staff has discussed using the same technology that “fence” these areas to similarly “fence” city sidewalks; however, the technology is not advanced enough at this time. City Council will need to take an action to permit dockless scooter operations in bike lanes, as dockless electronic scooters were not an anticipated mode of transportation and are prohibited in bike lanes. Regulations require users to abide by all applicable traffic laws. 

City Council will ultimately make the decision weighing benefits and liabilities to determine the value and place of dockless scooters in the overall transportation environment. 

Enforcement 

No set of regulations or rules can be effective without education and enforcement. Certain aspects of the regulations are more easily enforced than others. Parking and staging of scooters can be addressed through a multi-pronged approach of guidance in the agreement terms, education, and enforcement. The agreement terms themselves provide stronger guidance to the scooter companies than exists today, and prescribed parking areas for high traffic sidewalks will provide users clear, unambiguous, and properly located parking zones. The Downtown Raleigh Alliance has also offered its Safety Ambassadors to assist with education about appropriate parking locations. 

Transportation’s Parking Division currently has a position vacancy that can be filled and dedicated to scooter parking enforcement (a civil citation that would be sent to the dockless scooter company). One enforcement officer can reasonably monitor and enforce most parking activities in the downtown area. Additional resources may be required if a high level of service is necessary in other areas. 

Riding on the sidewalk and riding without a helmet is more difficult to enforce. These offenses have criminal (misdemeanor) penalties, Responsibility for issuing misdemeanor citations rests with the Raleigh Police Department; Parking Enforcement can only write civil citations. The Raleigh Police Department has limited resources and will provide enforcement as circumstances demand and resources allow. 

The dockless scooter operators recognize this issue of enforcing their own rules of use. Bird indicated that they are working to develop technology solutions to identify and report offenders, including poor parking behaviors. Notices through both their technology solution and City enforcement can be documented and logged, and user accounts could then be suspended and/or revoked based on this violation information. While this approach has promise, to Staff’s knowledge, it has not yet been implemented by either company. 

Options 

Staff has outlined four options for dockless scooter regulation for City Council consideration. These options include: 

OPTION 1: Direct Staff to present master encroachment agreements with the current operators for dockless scooters to Council for approval, with detailed requirements for operations. (The encroachment agreement will be in effect until July 31, 2019, when operators will be solicited through a Request For Proposals (RFP)). 

Advantages to this approach include: 

  • A regulatory framework for current operator and user accountability is quickly created and placed into effect. 
  • The approach provides adequate time and opportunity to produce a thoughtful comprehensive request for proposals to competitively select the best operators. 
  • The approach affords Staff the time to solicit stakeholder input into the request for proposals. 
  • The General Assembly may act on the issue in early 2019, providing some clarity and guidance. 

The current dockless scooter operators would continue to offer service under the encroachment agreements. Some stakeholders may consider retaining these operators a disadvantage to this approach. Also, some level of resources is required to verify compliance. 

OPTION 2: Direct Staff to prepare a RFP to select a vendor(s) most advantageous to the City’s goals based on criteria that includes operations, equity, and safety, as soon as practical, with scooter companies continuing to operate as they do today. 

Since little will change in the interim while Staff develops a request for proposals, few resources are required. The status quo may be considered an advantage by some stakeholders. 

Disadvantages to this option include: 

  • There is no clear regulatory structure for scooter operations and the current state of “non-regulation” remains in place. 
  • There may be possible broader community concerns that current safety and sidewalk blocking are not being addressed. 
  • Development of the request for proposals would be performed quickly, without opportunity for stakeholder input. 

OPTION 3: Direct Staff to prepare a RFP to select a vendor(s) most advantageous to the City’s goals based on criteria that includes operations, equity, and safety, as soon as practical. Do not permit scooter operations in the interim by issuing a “cease and desist” directive to current operators. 

Advantages to this approach include: 

  • Unlicensed, under-regulated operators are removed from the streets. 
  • The approach provides adequate time and opportunity to produce a comprehensive, thoughtful request for proposals to competitively select the best operators. 
  • The approach affords staff the time to solicit stakeholder input into the request for proposals. 
  • The General Assembly may act on the issue in early 2019, providing some clarity and guidance. 

Disadvantages to this option include: 

  • There may be possible rider/user concerns about the suspension of the program. 
  • A low-cost, low-carbon mobility option is temporarily removed from users. 
  • Some level of resources is required to verify compliance.

OPTION 4: Ban dockless scooters altogether. 

Advantages to this approach include: 

  • Unlicensed, under-regulated operators are permanently removed from the streets. 
  • No potential safety/sidewalk conflicts would be created by scooters. 
  • No long-term resources for program management, infrastructure maintenance would be required 

Disadvantages to this approach include: 

  • There may be possible rider/user concerns about the prohibition of the program. 
  • A low-cost, low-carbon mobility option is permanently removed from users. 
  • Some level of resources is required to verify compliance. 

Recommendation 

Staff recommends Option 1.

Staff would advise Bird and Lime, the current dockless scooter operators, to apply for a master encroachment agreement. Concomitant with the master encroachement agreement, staff would proceed with developing a RFP to solicit any interested dockless scooter operators. Staff would commence the RFP process in order to have a set of operators ready at the conclusion of the initial term of this master encroachment agreement, which is July 31, 2019. 

This approach provides an opportunity for a rapidly evolving industry and technology to mature. Also, the North Carolina General Assembly indicated they may consider legislation in this time frame that could offer more clarity for community policy makers. The proposed Option 1 quickly places rules in effect to address the current situation (few rules, little accountability) while affording staff the opportunity to solicit meaningful stakeholder input into the RFP process and to engage a broader group of potential dockless scooter operators. This time provides the opportunity to produce a more comprehensive, thoughtful RFP to find the best operators for the Raleigh community.