To keep scooter concessionaires from riding roughshod over downtown West Palm, the city commission this week imposed a 180-day moratorium on their services in hopes of finding ways to regulate them.
West Palm Beach is big on encouraging walking, biking, trolleys and other alternatives to cars. But with scooter sharing spreading quickly across the U.S., problems are cropping up faster than cities can write rules to control their safe introduction into busy downtown environments. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that nearly $1 billion has been raised for expanding scooter companies and that in San Francisco this spring, companies moved quickly to place more than 1,000 scooters on the streets before the city could react with regulations.
“The key is to regulate it properly without over-regulating,” Assistant City Administrator Scott Kelly told commissioners in urging the moratorium Monday. “We want to learn from the lessons of other municipalities. There were some experiences that weren’t very pleasant.”
The action won’t affect the city’s popular bike share program, run by SkyBike West Palm Beach. That program, launched in June 2015, has drawn 43,350 rides and has 20,500 registered riders, according to general manager Juan Orellana.
Other cities have found that, while bike rentals like those in West Palm often have set locations for renting and returning, docking areas, scooter rentals frequently operate as dock-less systems, which means they can be left about when no longer in use, blocking sidewalks. Or, pedestrians get upset people are scooting on sidewalks.
West Palm needs to consider how to resolve those issues and others, such as whether minors should be required to wear a helmet, Kelly said.
Once it establishes its regulations, the city will put out a request for proposals from scooter companies that want to operate here.
“One of the biggest things is just the clutter,” Kelly said. “Some of these companies have come in unregulated and it’s just a free-for-all. You can pick them up anywhere, scan the scooter and wherever you’re done with it, just drop it.”
Orellana, whose company has 140 bikes and 18 locations at public sites and private companies downtown, said SkyBike plans on a future with docks and dock-less bikes, for convenience. And his bikes are built to accommodate electric motors, as many scooter concessions have, he added, should the city show interest.
Skybike charges $3 a half-hour, with a maximum of $24 a day. The service is geared toward tourists.
The company is considering adding scooters to its bag of tricks, but not in the immediate future, Orellana said. The trick is integrating the software so the bike and scooter systems could work together. “It’s kind of difficult.”
Meanwhile the company is looking forward to West Palm giving the go-ahead for it to expand beyond downtown, to popular Northwood, for example, and the South End. “To make those connections is going to make it more pleasing.”