The Rapid City government has effectively forced an electric kick scooter rental service off of public streets and sidewalks.
Officials said Friday that based on state and local laws there are few places in town where the service can safely and legally operate. Despite their statements, the man behind the scooters says he is hopeful his company and the city may yet come to an agreement.
“I intend on working with the public officials as much as I possibly can and hope to have the scooters available to the public,” Austin Vance said last week.
Vance, who moved to Rapid City recently, is a partner in a small company that operates a Goat e-scooter rental franchise in Dickinson, North Dakota. Unlike larger scooter-sharing companies Byrd and Lime, Goat sells scooters directly to consumers who operate them on its behalf. Vance said he bought 30 scooters at a cost of $800 apiece for his Rapid City operation.
Users locate scooters in their area with Goat’s GPS-enabled smartphone app, through which rental fees can be paid. By scanning the QR code labeled on each scooter with their phones, a user can “unlock” it for a dollar and ride it for 20 cents a minute. A portion of revenue goes back to Goat itself.
The scooters are sometimes described as “dockless” because they can be picked up and dropped off at nearly any location in places that have them.
Scooter-sharing companies began to crop up in U.S. cities within the past several years. Not unlike ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, they have occasionally run afoul of local governments due to regulatory issues.
“Oftentimes, we run into technology evolving faster than legislation can,” Rapid City police spokesman Brendyn Medina said Friday.
Vance attempted to rent the scooters out downtown in late July. But because the city considers them to be motor vehicles — which by state and local law cannot be driven on sidewalks — it put a halt to their rental. City spokesperson Darrell Shoemaker previously said that Vance hadn’t acquired a state sales tax license at the time either.
Adding to the issue is the fact that, per local ordinance, bicycles, scooters and skateboards cannot be ridden on downtown sidewalks. Vance said he then worked with the city in hopes of renting the scooters for use on the street.
After he mounted mirrors and placed warning stickers on them, Vance said he placed the scooters out for rent again only for the city to impound them. The reason, he said, was that they were considered to be abandoned in the public right-of-way.
He was able to retrieve them at no cost and said he has had little contact with the city since.
As for why it considers scooters to be motor vehicles, the city Attorney’s Office cited a 2004 opinion issued by the state Attorney General’s office that says they are no different than motorcycles. That means their riders are required to have a driver’s license and wear a helmet if they are younger than 18.
But at least in Rapid City, riding the scooters on the street also appears to be out of the question. Because they have a top speed of approximately 25 miles per hour, the city Attorney’s Office said they violate an ordinance on impeding traffic.
Riding electric scooters on city bike paths, meanwhile, is also not allowed. Although e-bikes can be used on the paths, Medina said they differ from e-scooters in that they aren’t primarily operated with a throttle.
Medina said Friday the city is still open to working with scooter-sharing companies.
“The way that they were deployed just wasn’t a good way to deploy them,” he said.
For his part, Vance said he doubts that he would have been treated differently if had contacted the city before deploying the scooters.
“I think at the end of the day, it would have ended up the same as it is in this moment in time,” he said.
Vance said he is looking now to rent the scooters out on private property but declined to say where.