Aspenites and visitors got a taste of a town where electric scooters are the norm this week, courtesy of Lime electric scooters. The Fortune Brain Tech conference, which ran from Monday to Wednesday, provided the vehicles to participants, to get from the St. Regis host site to auxillary seminars around town. While city council put a six-month moratorium on these types of products last month, that decision only effects fleets left in the public right of way, not ones based on private property.
John Krueger, director of transportation for the city of Aspen, said that while the city could not directly regulate the operation, which was limited in its scope, Lime reached out to him ahead of time to talk about their temporary presence in town.
“We kind of set some expectations and guidelines and they’ve understood that,” said Krueger.
He said his conversation with the company hit on broad safety parameters for riders and pedestrians.
“It’s mostly safety oriented — they are not supposed to be on sidewalks, trails or the mall,” he said.
On June 17, Aspen City Council directed staff to place a six-month moratorium on right-of-way encroachment licenses that would allow for electric scooters to be scattered around town, or “dockless,” and checked out via a mobile app. The pause is meant to allow for staff to create a series of regulations to address the burgeoning dockless mobility sector.
“There aren't a lot of regulations on the books in regards to these, so that’s why we asked for some time to work with these big vendors and with the local stores to work through all those issues,” Krueger said.
The council heard from local businesses during the work session, mostly bike companies that also use their private property to rent out e-bikes and other recreation equipment.
Ed Garland, the owner of Aspen Bikes, pushed for the council to create a comprehensive management plan, but said they are not interested in entering the market because they could not compete with the low prices that the major companies like Lime and Bird charge. He said right now the companies are operating at a loss with the plan to raise prices once they gain market share. Patrick Dietz of Aspen Bicycles brought in a prototype he is working on for a dockless e-bike that could be placed around town, but also encouraged the city to create clear guidelines for the industry.
The city estimates it will spend around $25,000 on outreach efforts to stores like these, as well as to the public at large, to get a sense for what the community thinks about the availability of dockless electric vehicles.
Councilmember Ward Hauenstein pointed out that the city already generously subsidizes a docked mobility option — the bikeshare program WeCycle, which has been examining dockless and electric-motor mobility options. Part of the city’s investment in the nonprofit company was a directive for them to look into dockless e-bike options, he said, and the city needs to be sensitive to any competitive advantage WeCycle would have against private bike shops.
“If they come in with a dockless system, they have an unfair advantage because they are being subsidized greatly by the city and by RFTA and other entities” Hauenstein said of WeCycle at the June work session. “I just don’t think it’s fair to [local bike rental companies] that they have to compete without a subsidy.”
Councilmember Rachel Richards pointed out that the alternative transportation options that the city has been pushing are meant to be free, to incentivize their use. She said that a proliferation of paid modes might result in people defaulting to their cars again.
It is likely Aspen will see several businesses applying for a right-of-way infringement licence once the moratorium is up and regulations are in place. Krueger said he has already been approached by the bigger electric scooter companies.
“Different vendors have expressed interest and that’s why we wanted to get ahead of it,” Krueger said.