The Denver Department of Public Works has ordered that LimeBike and Bird, the two companies behind the zippy scooter infestation, remove their devices from “the public right of way.”
This is far from a cease-and-desist. The companies can continue to operate; their scooters simply can’t be parked in public spaces. Lime has previously encouraged “proper parking” via its website and app, warning users to “not block [the] pedestrian walkway” and to “please park properly by curbside.” However, as the curbside is part of the public right-of-way, that advice could well result in a confiscated scooter.
Lime seems eager to cooperate, responding to the city via a statement: “We want to collaborate with the City on a regulatory framework that enables us to best serve Denver residents and visitors, while also working to overcome the initial community learning curves of a new form of transportation.”
Last week, to get a taste of that initial learning curve, I took one of Lime’s scooters out for a ride with a GoPro shamefully strapped to my head.
Prior to hopping on, a few perfunctory preparations had to be made. I signed up for the app and entered in my debit card information. I then unlocked the scooter with my phone, skimmed an explanation of how to ride the thing — kickstand up, push off to start, throttle to accelerate, brake to slow — and took off.
Drawing stares and, in one case, a mocking Snapchat from a pedestrian, I started my ride near the State Capitol. Transitioning from sidewalk to street, I rolled past parked cars and pedestrians for a block or two, then turned down a shaded alley, doing my best to avoid its obstacle course of trash and potholes. Emerging from the alley, I paused to survey Colfax traffic, scanning its bustle left and right for a break. Once out on a street as big as that, I felt out of place, exposed, and quickly made my exit, cutting through the grounds of the Capitol itself to a food truck parked near the Molly Brown House museum at 13th and Sherman, where I paused the video for a burrito break.
Heading south for Baker's calm residential streets (favorite riding spot so far), I roamed alleys and side streets, hopping on the sidewalk when I confronted Speer Boulevard (I'm not a madman). After rolling around Baker for a bit, pausing at stop signs, checking for cars, riding the scooter as I would a bike — consciously, but with gusto, getting up to speeds of 18/19 mph (I would confidently contest Lime's site's claims of a 14.8 mph max speed) — I began to loop back. Passing by Denver Health, I crossed Eighth Avenue and ducked down to the park paths of Sunken Gardens. Rumbling along the uneven asphalt shared by distant walkers, I felt like a menace, a pest disrupting the quiet dignity of a walk in the park. I got out of the park as quickly as I could, and trailing a city worker crossing the street on a lawnmower, made my way back to the Westword office on Broadway.
Sped up to about two minutes, the video, embedded below, represents 30 cents worth of a ride. (Keep an eye out for a rare sighting of a fellow scooter rider at 3:31.)
It was only after the ride that I actually saw any sort of safety information, posthumously informing me that I should have worn a helmet (though unprovided) and followed traffic laws — avoiding sidewalks and walking paths in favor of streets and, ideally, bike lanes. On the helmet issue, Lime stated via email that it is both "providing all of our operations teams... with a supply of helmets to be actively handed out to users seen unlocking or riding without a helmet" and working with "community and business partners" to do the same. All the same, take a look outside and it's obvious many rides are still bare-headed — though riding a scooter is goofy enough without the addition of a helmet.
The accessibility of these scooters — Lime has referred to them as a “sustainable, convenient transportation alternative” — could also, with current lack of regulation, raise some issues. For instance, at least at the time of my ride, there was no method of age verification, despite the company's requirements (listed on its website under Lime-S Etiquette) that riders must have a driver's license and be eighteen or older.
And just how cooperative the scooters are with riders is questionable. A Westword photographer reported that the scooter he rented ran out of juice a mile from his destination, and when he tried to hike the scooter from the Cherry Creek Bike Trail to a main thoroughfare, it barked that it would call 911 to report the "theft."
Lime’s rollout strategy seems to generally follow an "act then apologize" mantra. Rollouts in both San Francisco and Charlotte have followed similar patterns as here in Denver. The scooters appear, briefly run wild, and are then suspended as the city scrambles to regulate them.
That's where we're left now, as Public Works closed its statement with the announcement that "Denver will be working toward developing rules that regulate dockless transportation companies, emphasizing safety and respect for public spaces."
In the meantime, the scooters appear to be a hit in Denver, at least with users. In a summary of its first week of Denver operations, Lime announced that more than 16,000 trips had been made by 7,000 users, saving 20,000 pounds in CO2 emissions. In addition, it reported that Denverites working in its juicer program (charging scooters) have made a total of over $10,000 in just one week.
"We see Lime-S as an integral component in helping Denver achieve its goal of 30 percent non-vehicle travel by 2030," Lime said in a statement. "So far, Denver has only reached 13 percent non-vehicle travel, and by taking cars off the roads and replacing them with scooters, we believe we can alleviate traffic congestion, help Denver reach its environmental goals, improve urban mobility, and transform the way people get around the city."