Scooter, bike rental program may roll into downtown Arlington, UTA if this policy change passes
An Arlington city ordinance change may clear the way for UT Arlington to launch a bike and scooter rental program that connects riders to campus and downtown.
The proposed revisions would soften a 2005 ordinance that outlaws motor-assisted scooters from city streets.
If passed, people would be able to drive personal or rented scooters between Fielder Road, Collins Street, Division Street and Park Row Drive. Some streets would not be included – for example, scooters and rental bicycles would not be allowed along South Cooper Street. Personal bikes would not be affected by the policy, nor would devices like motorized wheelchairs or mobility scooters.
The changes also include provisions for the city government to work with UTA officials on developing what’s known as a “micromobility” program. The term refers to a self-service rental program that offers a mix of lightweight vehicles.
UT Arlington has launched multiple bike rental programs over the past several years, most recently in early 2022. However, UTA has steered clear of programs that include scooters, according to Greg Hladik, UTA executive director for auxiliary services. The university allows scooters, but the mix of city- and campus-owned roadways would have made for a confusing rider experience, he said.
“It’s not realistic for us to expect students to understand who owns the street in order for them to determine which street they can ride down. As a policy, we’ve made a decision to not allow any rental scooters on our campus and pending a decision or an ordinance change by the city council,” Hladik said.
Students and faculty with the campus organization Walkable Arlington said they have mixed feelings about the proposal.
Anna Laura Harmjanz, the group’s president and cofounder, said she and others support the change overall.
“I think that's a significant step for the city of Arlington,” Harmjanz said.
However, Harmjanz and others’ concerns lie with the proposed coverage area and restrictions for people who own scooters or would participate in the rental program.
The proposal would restrict use of personal scooters or rented vehicles between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Harmjanz said the restrictions could inconvenience people who work or study late at night.
“College students, they often have very dynamic schedules that might come in the form late-night study sessions or part-time jobs or evening classes,” she said.
Harmjanz said she recognizes the program is a start, but the pilot program boundaries do not allow direct access to businesses along Cooper Street or full-service supermarkets.
“There’s a really wide range of businesses that are on Cooper Street that students are already visiting there with their e-scooters,” she said.
Ann Foss, city transportation department planning and programming manager, said the hours are on par with what other service providers and cities offer, as well as best practices from national organizations.
“I think it’s mostly a safety concern, wanting to stick to times when more people are out and about to use the scooters or bike-shares, and then also knowing that the operators need a chance to recharge and redistribute the devices,” Foss said. “Having some downtime overnight allows them to do those operational elements.”
Rebecca Boxall, District 5 council member, said she’d like to see the program expand citywide, but that the revisions give city and campus officials the chance to test a program on a smaller scale.
“Ideally, I’d like to see it citywide. I’d like to see it in our linear park systems and just give people more options for moving around,” Boxall said.
Even so, she said the city council settled on the pilot program specifics out of safety concerns.
“People are very concerned about safety. They're concerned about, you know, people getting on the street with those and maybe getting hit by a car,” she said.
Arlington City Council approved the changes by a 7-2 vote Sept. 5. Council members Helen Moise, who represents District 1, and Nikkie Hunter, who represents District 3, voted against the changes.
Council will vote on the policy change a second and final time Sept. 26, Foss said.
Proposal marks latest effort
Morgan Chivers, Walkable Arlington’s faculty adviser, knew of several students who planned their schedules around the bike-share program UTA launched in early 2022. Blue Duck, the company that ran the program, closed and pulled bicycles from campus months later.
Chivers said the sudden withdrawal left people in the lurch.
“People were late to a lot of stuff because they had planned on not having a personal bike of their own or scooter or whatever, but being able to rely on the devices (and) micromobility fleet being around,” he said.
Presentations to Arlington City Council about a prospective micromobility program attributed the difficulty launching a program to the ordinance's ban on scooters.
Hladik said micromobility programs that do not include scooters make it difficult to run a successful program.
“It’s our understanding from working with three different vendors over the past eight to ten years is that they, the vendors, rely on revenue from the more profitable scooters to be financially successful,” He said.
If the ordinance is approved on second reading, Hladik said the university would work “expeditiously” to gauge student demand for a bike and/or scooter rental program. The university would consider a bicycle-only program if council does not approve the policy changes on second reading.
Hladik said he sees working with students, including Walkable Arlington, on creating the program. The student organization has worked with UTA, city government and local business owners on projects including the bike-share program, as well as pedestrian and cyclist safety audits.
“I think they bring up some really good points that, you know, we want to continue to have conversations with the city staff about the specifics in the ordinance to see if what we had planned still make sense given the feedback from the public comment section,” Hladik said.
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