Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em, Electric Scooters Could Soon Come to Downtown Phoenix

Dockless electric scooters could be zipping through downtown Phoenix as soon as this spring as part of a yearlong pilot program.

Before the scooters can grace city streets — or menace them, depending on your point of view — the Phoenix City Council needs to approve several fees charged to scooter companies, and modify a city ordinance that currently bans electric scooters in Phoenix.

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The approval process should start Tuesday, when city staff are scheduled to propose the plan to the city’s Aviation and Transportation subcommittee. If the subcommittee decides to recommend it to the full council, the soonest the council could vote would be March 20. If everything moves forward without a hitch, the scooters could become available in late March or early April.

City staff have outlined the broad contours of the pilot program, but they are still hashing out many of the details. Although the downtown business group Phoenix Community Alliance has said it supports the pilot program, according to the city, it’s not clear who else is on board.

The city hasn’t surveyed residents or other groups that would be affected, like Arizona State University, which has a downtown campus squarely in the area of the pilot program. In October, ASU banned scooters from its campus in Tempe, calling them “a nuisance and a potential danger.”

Questions about how safety measures and rules would be enforced, the program’s finances and its staff time —  heck, whether people will actually like having scooters in downtown Phoenix — remain unanswered. But the city is hoping to use the pilot program to answer these kinds of key questions to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

“At this point, we obviously don’t have any experience,” said Briiana Velez, the assistant street transportation director for Phoenix. “We have received some requests from constituents saying ‘Hey, we’ve seen scooters in Tempe and Scottsdale, when are they coming to Phoenix?” she added. “If we do move forward, absolutely, community feedback would be important.”

The pilot program would cover about two square miles of downtown Phoenix, from Seventh Avenue to Seventh Street and from Buckeye to McDowell roads. Every company that joins the program would be allowed to kick in a maximum of 300 scooters. So far, four — Lime, Bird, Razor, and Lyft — have expressed interest, Velez said. Scooter stations would be at least 100 feet apart, with four scooters per station.

People would not be allowed to ride scooters on sidewalks, according to Velez. People could ride in bike or shared-use lanes, if a road has those — otherwise, they would be riding on streets, directly alongside cars, she said.

Riding on the streets would be one notable difference between the program Phoenix is proposing and the programs that exist in neighboring Tempe and Scottsdale, where scooters are allowed on sidewalks and walking requires constant vigilance for the contraptions.

Having a pilot program would allow Phoenix to test out how well it actually works for people buzzing along at maximum speeds of 15 miles per hour to coast alongside multiton vehicles going much, much faster.

The city will propose that scooter riders be at least 18 and have a driver’s license. Scooter companies’ policies would help enforce that, because they already require users to share their driver’s license numbers when they sign up for an account. Helmets would be encouraged but not required.

The program is not supposed to cost the city anything, because it would charge scooter companies whatever fees would be necessary to recoup the costs of managing it. For now, according to the city’s proposal, those fees are set at $500 for a permit application, $5,000 for a six-month permit, and 10 cents per ride. There would also be an $80 impound fee if the city has to pick up abandoned scooters left somewhere they shouldn’t be.

Those fees could go up or down, depending on what the city finds is actually needed to cover costs. “There’s no intent to make money off of this program,” Velez said.

The City Council is scheduled to consider adding these fees at its March 20 meeting. It could take up the question of changing city ordinance sooner than that, but the timeline depends on how receptive the Aviation and Transportation subcommittee is on Tuesday, said Velez.

The three members on that subcommittee are Debra Stark, who represents District 3, in north Phoenix, Felicita Mendoza from District 8, which contains a bit of downtown, and Thelda Williams, the interim mayor who also represents District 1, in north Phoenix.