City Hall

Not So Fast: Rental Scooters May Not Hit Dallas Streets Again Until Sometime Next Year

The city's dockless vehicle program brought some 12,000 scooters to Dallas before it was effectively shut down.
The city's dockless vehicle program brought some 12,000 scooters to Dallas before it was effectively shut down. Courtesy of Bird
Were you raring to whip out your credit card, rent a scooter and hit the streets of Dallas? Not so fast, pal. Rental scooters, which Dallas booted in 2020, aren't back quite yet.

Earlier this year, the city of Dallas said the dockless vehicles could be zipping along again by the end of this month. Now, the timeline has been delayed once again.

Assistance City Manager Robert Perez said in an Aug. 5 memo that the Dallas Department of Transportation anticipated “opening permit applications to operators within the next few weeks.”

Perez added, “It is anticipated that the permits will be issued, and the operators will subsequently launch their shared dockless vehicle services by the end of October.” In reality, it will likely be sometime next year before you can get back to scooting up and down Main Street.

Ever since Sean Buckley, a local lawyer who lives downtown, heard about the October timeline, he’d been waiting for the scooters’ return. He would use the scooters all the time to get around the city before they were banned in September 2020.

Two months passed after the August memo, and nothing happened. Reached for an update this month, the city told Buckley it still hadn’t issued the applications. Once it did, processing and scoring those applications would take about another month and a half. When he asked why, Buckley said, the city replied, “We’re short-staffed, and reviews are taking longer than anticipated.”

By email, Dallas spokesperson Page Jones said the Department of Transportation “is actively working towards the relaunch of the shared dockless vehicle program.”

“As the initial phase of the program will limit the number of vendors and the number of vehicles, staff is focused on ensuring that the evaluation meets the City’s legal requirements and is done with equity and excellence,” Jones said. “While staff turnover and the internal review process has put the relaunch slightly behind schedule, the Call for Applications is expected to open in the coming weeks with operators selected shortly thereafter.”

“Not having scooters makes it a lot harder to get around the immediate vicinity just because it’s too long to walk but too short to get an Uber." – Sean Buckley, attorney

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In March 2020, the City Council passed new regulations for the scooters, including curfews in Deep Ellum and the downtown area, as well as increases to permit and trip fees.

About six months later, though, after much of the country went on lockdown to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, some said the new scooter regulations weren’t being followed. So, then-Dallas Transportation Director Mike Rogers pulled the plug on the program, giving operators a week to get their scooters out of town. They haven’t been back since.

“Not having scooters makes it a lot harder to get around the immediate vicinity just because it’s too long to walk but too short to get an Uber,” Buckley said. “Of course, there were issues with the scooters. Did it warrant what is about to be a three-year ban on them where we don’t have that option? No.”

Buckley remembers a public hearing on the scooters after they were banned. People submitted written comments on what their experience was with the scooters and what changes they wanted to see. Some said corrals should be required for the scooters and that there should be curfews for their use.

On the other hand, many also wrote about how much they used them in their daily lives. “A lot of [the comments] had stories in them like, ‘Hey, I use this to get to college,' or ‘I moved here and I don’t have a car because I didn’t think I needed one,’” Buckley said.

So, when he heard about the new applications that were supposed to be sent out, he was pumped to see scooters back in Dallas. But they could come back only with certain restrictions.

These rules included limits on the number of operators and a cap on the number of scooters they provide in each district. No operator would be allowed to have more than 500 scooters in the city to start. They could increase their fleet by only 250 every three months if they continued to meet all of the city’s requirements and the number of complaints remained low. Riders would also have to stick to using the scooters between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.

It’s nowhere near perfect, especially considering how many will be allowed in each district, Buckley said. But it was a start. Until it wasn’t.

Buckley understands but doesn’t buy the excuse offered by the city, saying, “Lots of places are short-staffed, but the city does continue to operate.”

To him, the banning of the scooters and the delay in getting them back undermines Dallas’ transportation goals and the idea that it’s an innovative city.

“Dallas has set goals for better connecting our neighborhoods for making us more pedestrian- and micro mobility-friendly,” Buckley said. “But yet, we’re actively dragging our feet on things that, frankly, could have been resolved the same year that the scooter program was pulled by the director of [the Department of Transportation.]”

He added: “The mayor constantly touts, ‘Hey, we’re trying to be an innovative city.’ We have an innovation district. We’re trying to test things out here. If we want to be an innovative city, it doesn’t seem to be comporting with that, at least in the transportation realm.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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