Dallas’ nearly three-year ban of electric rental scooters will lift Wednesday, letting loose a comparative trickle of two-wheelers on city streets. (The city hopes the optimal word there is “streets.”)
Since banning the mode of micro-mobility under the guise of “public safety” in September 2020, Dallas city staffers have worked to figure out why and how these devices became such a nuisance. City Hall believes it has established a series of new regulations that will prevent a free-for-all, starting with how many scooters you’ll see and where you will see them.
Just three operators will have permission to drop their rides. Bird and Lime are back, along with the Denver-based newcomer Superpedestrian. Each company will be allowed to bring 500 scooters at first, and the city will evaluate performance every three months. They could be allowed another 250 each time, with a cap at 1,250. That means no more than a total of 3,750 rental scooters in Dallas; that’s likely a fraction of how many were here during peak Scootermania.
Not that Dallas could track them. During the first draft, the city had no real structure for scooter registration, meaning new companies were allowed to enter the market and weren’t limited to a total they could drop. Dallas couldn’t even get the operators to adhere to a curfew. Too, some were unwilling to share ridership data that the city wanted to help inform policy.
“Everything was learning. We went from this not even being a technology to being bombarded with it,” says Kathryn Rush, chief planner with the Department of Transportation at the city of Dallas. “It was a totally new regulatory environment that really isn’t very comparable.”
So Dallas banned scooters at the behest of the council members who represent downtown and Deep Ellum. That ban forced everyone back to the table.
“There was a real mentality of go in everywhere and just dominate the market, and I think that is shaking out as a strategy right now,” says Jamie Perkins, Superpedestrian’s director of communications. She described the company as a “second mover in the industry,” whose late arrival showed the company that working with cities on regulations is as good for the bottom line as it is for community relations. “We don’t want to be the people who are causing scooter pileups. We don’t want that. It’s not good for us either.”
All three operators have promised to employ GPS geofencing to stop the scooters if they’re being driven on a sidewalk. The maximum speed will be 20 mph, but that will drop to 10 mph in denser pedestrian zones, such as Bishop Arts and Deep Ellum. They won’t be allowed to operate between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. or in most public parks. They’ll also be banned on the Katy Trail, the AT&T Discovery District, and Klyde Warren Park.
Only 25 percent of an operator’s fleet will be allowed in what the city terms the Central Dallas Deployment Zone, which includes all of downtown and Deep Ellum, as well as portions of Uptown, the Cedars, and Old East Dallas.
The operators must deploy 15 percent of their fleet in Equity Opportunity Zones, most of which are located in Oak Cliff, southeast Dallas, and parts of North Dallas, like Vickery Meadow. During the first go-round, the scooters mostly stayed near more affluent parts of town. (Superpedestrian even allows a discount for folks who can prove they are enrolled in an income-based government assistance program.)
Residents are now encouraged to report violations—sidewalk or roadway obstruction, a device in the Trinity River, whatever—via 311, and operators have between two and four hours to respond. The vendors will now have staff members to react to requests and swap out batteries. In the past, the companies employed gig workers to charge the devices. Now the scooters come with replaceable batteries, Rush says, so you won’t see F-150 truck beds loaded up with dozens of scooters.
The city is also installing parking corrals in Deep Ellum, the West End, and near the Kay Bailey Hutchison Dallas Convention Center. Rush says those corrals will be able to hold at least 20 devices and will be roughly the size of a standard parking space.
The city has contracted with a data vendor that will process all this information to make sure the operators are working within their boundaries and promptly responding to issues. That won’t be fully implemented until later this summer, so expect to see some growing pains the first few weeks. Rush says “a soft launch” is planned for May 24, with the full rollout coming on June 1.
Regulations will certainly help corral the scooters. But there are some things that rules cannot fix. The behavior that rankled some council members and business owners was partly a result of how Dallas is designed and built.
Scooters were, and still are, an ill-fitting puzzle piece. Dallas’ wide roads put pedestrians and cyclists at risk, which is why scooter riders often favored sidewalks. (Which then put people on two feet on further alert.) The fact is, for scooters to succeed, Dallas will need to invest in bike facilities.
Rush says that’s underway. She is the chief planner who is responsible for updating the city’s bike plan for the first time since 2011. She says the city’s research shows that about half of all trips were 3 miles or fewer. “What trips can we convert to alternative modes of transportation that helps the city with its climate action goals?” Rush says.
Rush says the city is working to install bike facilities along Akard Street that will connect the Cedars neighborhood with the AT&T Discovery District downtown. Another will be installed along Houston Street, creating a link between the American Airlines Center and the West End and capturing the forthcoming Goldman Sachs development in Victory Park.
The 2011 plan called for 840 miles of cycling facilities, but Council didn’t allocate the money. As of December 2021, when the City Council voted on a consultant to advise on the new plan, there were 74 miles of bike lanes and just 5.3 of those were protected from traffic. The Dallas City Council will be briefed on the bike plan update on June 7. The goal is to have it approved by October, Rush says.
The National Transportation Safety Board has raised questions about the safety of scooters, mostly because there is no uniform code that would allow governments to analyze crash data. The Dallas Morning News editorial board, which has always side-eyed the scooters, used the NTSB report to harangue the tech.
But the bigger safety issue is how little of Dallas is built for people who aren’t in vehicles. Rush says that the bike plan and next year’s bond package will take into account projects that make it safer for people near bus stops along Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s high-frequency routes. Dallas has also had success with traffic calming initiatives in Oak Cliff. Jefferson Boulevard lost two lanes of traffic but saw no increase in congestion—and an 82 percent reduction in crashes.
Data compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that U.S. pedestrian deaths had surged to their highest level in 40 years in 2021. Between 2019 and last year, there was an 18 percent increase in nationwide pedestrian deaths—about 519 total. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that pedestrian deaths jumped 13 percent from 2021 to 2022.
There is a national demand from the public for safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists, and, yes, scooter-ers. Regulations will help control behavior, but infrastructure will keep people safe and encourage trips that would normally happen in a vehicle. That will be Dallas’ next challenge, and one that Rush hopes will be propelled by bond dollars next year.
“The intent was to get all this done before the bond, so we would have projects that had a greater amount of support and community buy-in,” she says.
Take two starts Wednesday.