Two companies participating in Phoenix's electric scooter program are breaking a rule intended to prevent sidewalk clutter, a problem that has enraged pedestrians and officials in other cities with shareable scooters.
Neither Lime nor Bird scooters are requiring riders to park in one of downtown's 400 designated parking zones, as the city requires, according to a Phoenix New Times trial run of the companies' products. Spin, the third scooter company in Phoenix on Monday, follows the rule.
Phoenix began its six-month e-scooter pilot program on Monday.
To get a permit to distribute e-scooters in Phoenix, companies were required to use so-called geofencing technology to preclude riders from ending a session outside of parking zones, which are marked by white poles emblazoned with reflective yellow strips. If the technology works properly, riders who try to park outside a designated zone will receive an alert through a smartphone app informing them that they cannot end their session and will continue to get charged by the minute.
The city's official e-scooter permit stated that "operators must customize their mobile app to notify their Riders when attempting to park outside the Designated Parking Areas and preclude their Riders from ending their trip outside such locations." If someone reports a scooter outside a parking zone, the city gives companies two hours to move the vehicle or face an $80 fine.
New Times rode at least three scooters from each company on Tuesday and attempted to park them well outside designated zones to test their compliance with city rules.
Spin was the only company with a system in place prohibiting us from parking outside a designated zone. Here's what we saw on the Spin app when we got nearly half a block away from the nearest parking zone:
The app did not allow us to end our session until we moved closer to a parking zone. Still, Spin's geofencing technology appears to be flawed. Its app occasionally misplaced us in a designated parking zone when we were a few yards away from the nearest one. A spokesperson for the company said that's because Spin uses a radius system to combat GPS technology limitations.
In a statement to New Times, a spokesperson for Spin said: "Spin is committed to playing by the rules cities set and we expect that these regulations are abided by all players in the space. Unfortunately, noncompliance from other scooter operators is something we’ve seen more often than not in markets across the country, including in Phoenix."
Lime allowed us to illegally park on private property about a block away from the nearest parking zone. When we pressed a button in the Lime app to end our session, we were prompted by a screen asking us whether we wanted to "pause" or "end" the ride:
We hit "end ride," which triggered another prompt asking us to take a picture of the scooter to "validate proper parking" and "help the next rider find it." We did so and saw this:
And that was it. We ended the parking session outside a designated area without any problem (and then quickly moved the scooter to a parking zone). New Times parked two other Lime scooters a good distance from the nearest parking zone with no problem.
Reached on the phone, a spokesperson for Lime confirmed that the company does not require riders to park in the city's designated zones. The spokesperson said company representatives cleared its system with city officials before launching on Monday.
He added that riders attempting to park their scooters should receive a message asking them whether they are in a designated zone. New Times did not receive that message in any of our three trial runs.
Emphasizing that this is an "education period," the spokesperson said Lime will be reviewing the photos of parked scooters and potentially fining users who failed to park properly. He declined to say how much the fines would be.
Bird, like Lime, does not appear to have implemented a system prohibiting users from parking outside a designated zone. When we ended a ride about a block from the nearest zone, we were asked to take a picture of the e-scooter:
Once we snapped and sent the photo (we moved the scooter), we were met with this screen:
That's it. Nothing informed us that we were outside a designated zone. Two other trial runs with Bird scooters showed that the company does track whether riders are in a designated zone. The company, like Spin, also appears to have a similar problem with geographic accuracy.
When we ended a session several feet away from a designated zone, we received a screen thanking us for placing Bird's scooter in a parking area. The screen informed us that Bird would be refunding us 50 cents for our cooperation.
Nice. But still not compliant with city rules prohibiting riders from parking outside designated zones.
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In a statement, a spokesperson for Bird said: "Phoenix's pilot program calls for a number of operational requirements which we are working with city officials to address. The people of Phoenix deserve access to reliable transportation alternatives, and so we are thrilled to have the opportunity to provide them with our option."
While Phoenix's regulations for e-scooters are some of the strictest in the country, representatives from all three scooter companies signed onto the city's rules when they applied for permits. All three scooter companies also demonstrated to city officials some form of geofencing technology that prohibited parking outside designated zones, according to Ashley Patton, a spokesperson for the Phoenix's Street Transportation department.
Patton confirmed that failing to preclude riders from parking outside zones would be noncompliant with city rules.
"This is a new requirement for the vendors and we are understanding of the learning curve," Patton said. "The parking requirements are clearly outlined in the permit application and will be enforced. Vendors must comply to these requirements or the city will take action to include potential suspension or revoking of permits."