GALVESTON

A company’s bid to bring electric scooter rentals to the island is being met with some roadblocks as city officials work to regulate such an enterprise that has caused headaches in other cities.

Four months after the Galveston City Council passed an ordinance requiring permits to operate such businesses, Crab Scooters, a company offering electronic scooter rentals, aims to launch such a venture.

Owner Ryan O’Neal argues his electric scooter business model is different from other systems that have inundated cities like Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, where companies compete to offer dockless and rechargeable vehicles. Those cities have complained that users are wreaking havoc by leaving scooters wherever they want, blocking sidewalks, ramps and doorways, according to reports.

His business plan would prevent that problem, O’Neal said. His plan calls for delivering scooters to users upon request and collecting them for storage after customers are finished riding, he said.

“This dockless ride-sharing model has serious flaws,” O’Neal said. “People are fearing that we’re going to come in here and we’re trying to make Galveston look like Austin, and that’s not the case.”

But the city has yet to create the permit that the September ordinance mandates company operators obtain.

“Permits will not be available to applicants until there are established standards and rules to properly manage these types of programs,” city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

The city has had conversations with O’Neal and is working to develop regulations for the permit, Barnett said.

The city’s already asked O’Neal to make changes to his business model, such as requiring a brick-and-mortar location, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

Under that requirement, O’Neal wouldn’t need a permit for a dockless share system, but would need to get a building permit for the permanent location, city officials said.

There still are a lot of questions for the city to address about dockless systems and O’Neal’s business, Maxwell said.

The city is worried about resident safety and use of public space, among other things, he said.

“Unfortunately, technology and products of this line are coming out faster than we can legislate and manage them,” Maxwell said.

The city’s no stranger to new, tourist-friendly ways of getting around, Maxwell said. The city had to develop new rules to make sure covered surreys were safe, when those began to frequent Galveston, he said.

“These are all things that go along with a tourist town,” Maxwell said.

O’Neil envisions his business would appeal most to tourists, but some established island rental companies wonder how viable the service is.

There’s a lot of unsolved problems associated with dockless scooters and bikes, Island Bicycle Company Owner Jeff Nielsen said.

“It’s a novelty-type thing,” Nielsen said. “Everybody thought they were going to be great and now they’re getting kicked out of every city.”

He’s tried to offer bike delivery to his tourist customers, and it didn’t pan out, Nielsen said.

But the popularity of dockless services has ballooned across the nation. Bike shares saw 35 million trips in 2017, 25 percent more than in 2016, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

The number of bike share bikes more than doubled in that time, from 42,500 bikes at the end of 2016 to about 100,000 by the end of 2017, according to the association.

O’Neal hopes to launch his scooter business by the end of February, but city officials aren’t so sure they’re have all their concerns answered by then, they said.

“I think February might be a bit optimistic,” Maxwell said.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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(15) comments

Ron Woody

A concern that consistently appears in stories about different and new business in Galveston is a determination of "commercial viability".

I have seen comments about commercial real estate zoning and whether a store is viable in that location or whether scooters are a viable business plan on the island.

It is not government's job at any level to determine whether a business is viable (unless they are providing the funds, i.e. auto manufacturer bail out). It is government's job to determine if it will affect the safety of its residents and the land they live.

Leave the business viability up to the investors. I know in this day and age it is expecting a lot to want capitalism, freedom, independence and opportunity but one can dream!

Michael Byrd

Well said.

George Croix

[thumbup]

Theresa Elliott

Totally agree!

City Manager

Can somebody point me to where it says the city would be determining the viability of the business? The city's involvement is related to public safety and land development issues. The city has not and will not ever delve into the viability of someone's business, however they must follow the guidelines prescribed.

Gary Scoggin

Amen.

Paul Sivon

Spend a little time in Austin driving around the University and check out the scooter renters’ behaviors. They act like a pedestrian when convenient and a motorist when convenient. Totally out of control driving behavior. CC just spent a lot of time on bicycle safety relative to cars/trucks, this will be way past that issue.

Steve Fouga

First, I agree with Mr. Woody about allowing the marketplace to determine commercial viability.

Now, about the scooters... My opinion after observing them in downtown San Antonio is that they would be unsafe in Galveston, both to users and bystanders. They are fast, small, hard to see, and hard to control compared to bicycles, surreys, and most motor vehicles. Frankly, they are squirrelly compared to almost any other vehicle other than a unicycle. Furthermore, the scooters offer almost silent operation, which means pedestrians receive no warning of one approaching from behind. Imagine pedestrians sharing a crowded sidewalk with bicycles traveling 15 mph. A recipe for injury and lawsuits. There's a reason most jurisdictions require cyclists to ride on streets rather than sidewalks -- it's actually safer than the alternative.

I'm pleased that local government is showing skepticism towards these motorized scooters, but not because of their commercial viability. That said, my gut feeling is that they wouldn't be commercially viable in Galveston.

George Croix

Require the scooters to operate in the same areas as bicycles. They both have two wheels and a rider.
I ADMIT I have ZERO experience with scooters, but a lot with being suspected, when not outright accused, of being a threat or danger to others because of one of my personal hobbies and practices...for no actual reason other than somebody else has done wrong.
Like most things, a few people screw things up for the majority who do not.
Hold the screw up's responsible, and HAMMER them for bad acting.
Word will get around better than just speculating beforehand...imo....

Bobby Pope

Don't do it. They have become such a mess in Dallas. They block the sidewalks and are laying all over the place. Frisco ran the scooters companies out of town.

George Croix

Hmmmmm......
After some discussion with a couple folks who HAVE some actual experience with these scooters, and who's opinions matter to me, I'm gonna bow, sorta, to their experience and put the scooter rental business into about the same category as Open Carry....perfectly legal, not everyone makes a jerk of themselves doing it, but the potential negatives outweigh the positives, imo.....
I won't rent one, but do hate to see summary judgement passed as a One Size Fits All thing, so, am more than a bit conflicted here........

Charles Wiley

Bad idea! Two recent tripsmto San Antonio and horrivle experiences with these scooters everywhere led me to email,the City Manager about it. Her reply was that they wer inundated with simlar messages and are to re-evaluate in March. I don’t think these things will survive that re-evaluation. The streets and sidewalks are really a mess with these things. They clutter the landscape and are extremely hazardous to pedestrians and motorists alike. They should be licensed for street use to compete with motorist at a top speed of about 12 mph and thereby create significant traffic problems including accidents with injury or death OR authorized for use on sidewalks competing with pedestrians, bicycles, skateboards, and a whole host of other sidewalk onstructions including the sleeping homeless. It just won’t work!

Susan Fennewald

Maybe they could make a fine system - for every scooter blocking a sidewalk - fine the company $100. For every scooter abandoned on public property - $200. For every scooter that is pulled out of a body of water (common in some cities) - fine the company $300. For every scooter left lying on private property - the scooter becomes the property owners.

horace norris

Just damn thing to drive around here...

Jack Reeves

I just got back from San Antonio and the scooters are creating havoc. They are lying in walkways, spooking the carriage horses, riding in traffic lanes at night with a number of near misses observed and in general, creating a real mess. People show back up to their paid parking spots only to find a scooter or 2 leaning, abandoned, against their cars. Many of the operators I observed were not old enough to drive automobiles and they were out on major thoroughfares, breaking the most basic traffic laws. Bad, bad idea.

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