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5280's most athletic senior editor, Spencer Campbell, rides a Bird scooter on July 31. Photo by the less athletic digital assistant editor, Jay Bouchard.

Electric Scooters (Nearly 2,000 This Time!) Are Coming Back to Denver

Denver officials forced electric scooter companies to cease operations in the city two months ago. Now, the scooters are back and operating under new rules. Here's what you need to know.

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You thought things were crazy when a few hundred scooters infiltrated Denver back in May? Get ready for a heck of a lot more. Nearly 2,000 of the two-wheeled rides will be landing in Denver over the next two months. Last week, city officials cleared the way for five electric scooter and two electric bike companies to begin operating in the Mile High City. The first are already popping up.

When electric scooters first arrived in Denver—seemingly out of nowhere—nearly two months ago, city officials were not impressed. Two companies, LimeBike and Bird, gave the city little (if any) notice in May before dropping off hundreds of scooters, which left Denver Public Works (DPW) scrambling to adjust. At the time, few regulations existed to accommodate the new mode of transportation, which meant Denverites were scooting pretty much wherever they pleased—weaving through traffic, cruising in bike lanes, and dodging pedestrians on the sidewalks. Equally as troubling, according to the city, was that people were leaving the scooters in random places, and in some cases they blocked public rights of way.

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After only a few days of chaos, DPW began confiscating scooters and ultimately, in early June, ordered both LimeBike and Bird to suspend their scooter operations until regulations could be agreed upon between the city and the companies. It took most of the summer, but as of last week the electric scooters have been cleared to relaunch in Denver as part of the city’s Dockless Mobility Pilot Permit Program. On Wednesday, July 25, DPW approved permits for Bird, Lime, and three other docklesss scooter companies to operate in the city with 350 scooters each. Lime and Bird scooters are already back on the streets, and over the next 60 days, as many as 1,750 electric scooters could infiltrate Denver, in addition to 1,000 electric bicycles by early 2019.

But this time there are rules. According to a DPW statement, current City and County of Denver ordinances (as well as state law) classify e-scooters as “toy vehicles,” and therefore they are required to be ridden on the sidewalks. It’s currently illegal to ride electric scooters in roadways or in bike lanes, though the city is reviewing the ordinance language to determine whether the regulations should be changed.

Per the DPW statement, “riders are urged to watch speeds and yield to pedestrians at all times,” though a DPW spokesperson confirmed that at this point there is no defined speed limit for scooters operating on sidewalks, but it is something the department will consider. (A Lime spokesperson said a scooter’s max speed is approximately 15 mph.)

In order to ensure that the scooters are not strewn about the city and inhibiting the public right of way, DPW worked with Regional Transportation District (RTD) to develop guidelines for users. The guidelines mandate that the scooters be parked in an upright position adjacent to existing bike racks at RTD bus stops in a way that does not impede pedestrian flow. Painted parking areas may even be added to some RTD stops in the near future. If riders do not return the scooters to bus stops, the operating companies (Bird, LimeBike, etc.) are required to collect and return them to these locations every day.

However, as of Tuesday morning, three electric scooters (two Bird, one Lime) were parked on the Wazee Street sidewalk outside of 5280‘s office, something that DPW public information specialist Heather Burke confirmed is not allowed. Burke says that the permits issued to these companies by DPW are revokable, and if users fail to adhere to the new requirements, the operating companies may lose their ability to continue service in Denver. Members of DPW’s right-of-way enforcement team are monitoring scooter activity in the city and reporting back to the companies as to whether users are riding and parking responsibly. But the city of Denver is not responsible for rider education, Burke says. Instead, the operating companies are tasked with informing riders how to stay compliant.

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Sam Sadle, who oversees government relations for Lime in Denver, says the company is taking various steps to educate potential riders. First, when users activate a scooter, an in-app alert will instruct them that in Denver they must ride on sidewalks and park the scooters at bus stations. Moreover, Sadle says, Lime is partnering with organizations like BikeDenver, Bicycle Colorado, Walk Denver, and Denver Regional Council of Governments to provide more information to prospective Lime users. Sadle says Lime also has a team of Denver-based employees who are on the streets advising riders. According to a company spokesperson, Bird scooters also provide an in-app tutorial on how to ride the scooter and how to park it. Moreover, Bird riders must upload a driver’s license to confirm they are 18 or older.

Denverites will surely notice the return of Lime and Bird scooters this week, but here’s a look at the other companies that will soon bring similar services to Denver:

Lime: Permit to deploy 350 scooters, launched July 27
Bird:  Permit to deploy 350 scooters, launched July 30
Lyft: Permit to deploy 350 scooters, launching in September
Spin: Permit to deploy 350 scooters, launching within 60 days
Razor: Permit to deploy 350 scooters, launching within 30–45 days

The city also granted Lyft—the popular ride-sharing company—and a business called Jump permits to deploy 500 electric bicycles each. Lyft is expected to deploy its e-bikes within the next six months, while Jump is launching with 250 bikes immediately and scaling up to 500 by early 2019.

So, if you’re going to ride an electric scooter around Denver, here’s what you need to know: Download the respective app (Bird, LimeBike, etc.); it costs $1 to activate a scooter, plus an additional 15 cents per minute thereafter. Then follow the damn rules: Ride it on the sidewalk, park it at a bus station, and—most importantly—don’t hit any pedestrians. Please.

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Editor’s note 8/2/18: This story has been updated to incorporate information provided by a Bird spokesperson regarding the company’s rider-education efforts. 

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