DALLAS — Electric rental scooters — banned from the streets of Dallas last fall after two years in the city — are potentially making a comeback.
While we likely won't see them in Dallas in 2021, a few council members have their sights set on bringing them back, but this time, with regulations in place that they say weren't there before. The scooter program was halted officially in September 2020 after consultation with the Dallas Police Department "due to public safety concerns from residents." Complaints included allegations that companies and riders were not adhering to the dockless vehicle ordinance, which posed a public safety issue.
"It was a lot like Wild Wild West, but it was also a pilot period, if you will, for us to kind of see where those problems lie and how we can use policy to support mitigating where the issues were. And that's not only in policy, [but also] in collaboration with the vendors and making them comply to what the city's needs are," said Dallas City Councilman for District 7 Adam Bazaldua.
In late July, Bazaldua, District 9 Council member Paula Blackmon and newly-appointed District 2 Council member Jesse Moreno gathered in Austin on electric scooters in front of the Capitol building. Bazaldua's caption for the picture he tweeted read, "We think it's about time to get scooters back on the streets of Dallas, what say you?" The tweet garnered mixed replies from people, most of them from residents unhappy with the possibility of seeing e-scooters again and mentioning safety concerns.
Scooter company Bird replied to Bazaldua's tweet, saying, "We'd be honored to once again serve the city of Dallas and, keeping in mind some of the comments, work together with the city to help create the kind of infrastructure that would help micromobility thrive safely!"
Blackmon said she's aware the infrastructure needs to be improved if scooters are to thrive in the city.
"I think we need to thoughtfully work through that moving forward. But I don't think an all-out ban is a good thing for a city. We need to work through what is required to making it a successful program," Blackmon said. "It's working on the infrastructure, it's working on the rules, it's holding our providers accountable, and it's, you know, managing all those expectations along the way and keeping those communication lines open."
However, Bazaldua said the infrastructure improvements shouldn't fully fall on the city but also developers.
"We've got a lot of new development coming up. And when we have new development, we often require certain infrastructure improvements from those developments. And I believe that this is a great place for us to be talking about helping implementation of our Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) and helping the new developments that come up to take a little bit of the burden off of the city from being the only ones who are going to invest in the infrastructure that's needed for this to be successful," Bazaldua said.
Blackmon said the scooter ride in Austin was her first time on the electric form of micromobility. She said she now understands how people actually use it as a mechanism for transportation.
"With that being said, then there needs to be expectations that go with them. Not just from the user, but from also the scooter companies and from us as a city," Blackmon said.
Bazaldua mentioned how beneficial scooters would be for his constituents in southeast Dallas, particularly when it comes to breaking up that last mile. He said he was impressed by the geo-fencing and other restrictions that were in place with the scooters in Dallas. If scooters were to return, it's likely they would have to have these features before being approved.
"I'd like to see us get some thoughtful policy through committee, our council, hold our vendors accountable, [and for] us [to] start being more aggressive in collecting fees so that they can build up the infrastructure that is needed not only to park the things but also to ride safely in throughout the city and beyond just our central business district," Bazaldua said. "This is important enough for us to vet properly through our council committees, make sure that we have a pretty collective consensus around at City Hall before we put them back on our streets: the amount that will be put back out initially, the expectations of the platforms, etc."
Blackmon said discussions for soliciting requests for proposals, or RFPs, have not yet happened.
"I think in that RFP is where you kind of outline the expectations from the vendor and then what we could do in the process is making sure we have infrastructure that's ready to go that makes sense, and that we have education, you know. We're working with partners to make sure that we're educating our users on what they're expected," Blackmon said
But bringing scooters back will likely not be a favored decision among residents who live in areas where the scooters were clustered the heaviest. Deep Ellum resident Meri Dahlke said she's frustrated by the potential reboot of the scooter program, and she is not alone.
"People leave scooters everywhere. Every once in a while, people like scooters, but the majority of people, especially if they live down here, don't want them back. It's been really nice and peaceful since they've been gone," Dahlke said. "You can walk down the sidewalk and not worry about getting hit. You don't see people face planting in the street or people racing up and down on the scooters."
Dahlke said her main concerns about scooters are related to safety. She recalls a time she nearly ran over a scooter user who fell in the road.
"You could tell she wasn't really sturdy on her scooter, and she turned to talk to her friend, and all of a sudden, she faced planted in the road right in front of my vehicle," Dahlke said. "Yeah, there's a handful that utilize them and utilize them properly; that wasn't happening across the board. So I think that's where the anti-scooter sentiment happened."
Dahlke said more important issues the city should be addressing before turning their attention to scooters, particularly improving roads and sidewalks.
"For people riding on scooters, if they do follow the rules, and they go on the street, then they deal with things like potholes. If somebody on a scooter hit one of those, you're gonna fall and probably fall in front of a vehicle, and it's dangerous," Dahlke said. "If they're supposed to be in the street, look at the streets. I mean, it's hard enough to navigate with the vehicle, much less a person on the scooter not wearing a helmet. Do the basic stuff. Do the infrastructure first. Make the roads decent, you know, make public transportation, buses, all the Dart system, make that useable before you pop in scooters to the mix. That's what I would say."
Dallas is a heavily car-centric city, so until the infrastructure is built up to support multi-modal forms of transportation, Dahlke said scooters don't have any place in Dallas.
When it comes to a timeline on when Dallas could become a scooter-friendly city, any specifics remain to be seen.
"I would say that this is not something that needs to be rushed. But it's something that we can get moving on right away. And hopefully, by the end of the year, we have thoughtful policy in place, and a good understanding with the public, an education campaign of what to expect with scooters on our streets. But I know the policy work that's going to need to take place can get started immediately, and we should be able to get that under wraps by the end of the year," Bazaldua said.
Until we get a definitive answer of when or if scooters will return to Dallas, let's all take a moment to recall that bizarre video of a scooter user crossing I-35 and hope something that insane will never happen again.