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.