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:
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:
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:
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.
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."