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Barging into town unannounced can have competitive consequences.
For cities and localities that haven’t yet had to deal with a dockless scooter share operator coming to town with little warning, here’s a good example of how one Florida city, Coral Gables, has handled mobility companies that have a track record of taking advantage of local regulatory grey areas and angering municipal officials in the process.
This week, San Francisco-based Spin will deploy up to 75 e-scooters around Coral Gables as part of a city pilot program that lasts through Aug. 28. While Spin won’t be the first e-scooter operator in Florida, it will be the first e-scooter operator to deploy in Florida with the blessing of a local city hall.
In June, Santa Monica, California-based Bird and San Mateo, California-based Lime deployed their e-scooters in South Florida, including in Miami and Coral Gables. As local officials received complaints from residents over improper e-scooter parking, they sent cease-and-desist letters to the companies and went to work to craft rules to regulate dockless scooter systems.
In early July, officials in Coral Gables approved an emergency ordinance that banned e-scooter operations. But the measure also allowed the city to go into an official agreement with a mobility company as part of a pilot project that lasts until Aug. 28.
As Miami Today reported in July, when local officials approved the temporary ban on dockless scooters while also authorizing an exclusive short-term agreement with Spin:
After this six-week period, the city can enter into multiple agreements with different companies.
But for the next month and a half, only Spin will be operating approximately 75 scooters in Coral Gables. Drop-off and pick-up points will be designated and a driver’s license will be required to operate a scooter. Scooters aren’t allowed to be driven on sidewalks but they can be parked on a sidewalk out of the way of pedestrian traffic.
Once the six-week grace period is up, the city can impound scooters parked improperly for a $50 fee and possibly a $500 fine. During the pilot program with Spin, someone who sees a scooter parked improperly can take a photo in the Spin application on their phone and Spin employees are to come to pick up the scooter.
Coral Gables will use this pilot program period to analyze the best parking areas for the scooters and put together regulations for all future agreements with shared mobility companies.
The lesson from Coral Gables for the forces of venture capital-fueled municipal disruption: Sometimes it pays to play by the rules. Spin, for its cooperation with Coral Gables officials, now gets a bit of a head start over its competition when it comes to building brand loyalty in crowded mobility market.
City Commissioner Vince Lago, the Miami Herald reported, “said Spin had been scrupulous about working with the city and foregoing a ‘rogue’ release of its vehicles without formal permission. That cooperation led to the approval.”
The Coral Gables pilot project also gives Spin, which trails Bird and Lime in market share, a selling point when seeking to work with other city halls instead of forcing local regulators to suddenly react when they’re not prepared to do so.
"Actually doing the hard work of working with the city, from a partnership approach, can yield results," Brian No, Spin’s head of public policy, told Cheddar in July.
In related news, Bird announced Monday that it has come to an agreement with Milwaukee city officials to suspend its unauthorized e-scooter operations until their status under Wisconsin state law is clarified—something that may take a few months. After Bird dropped its scooters in Milwaukee last month, the city attorney’s office took Bird to federal court. But as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, it’s not immediately clear where the city’s lawsuit will go from here since both parties appear to be cooperating and looking forward to e-scooters being reintroduced.
RELATED on Route Fifty:
- A Federal Court Will Deal With the Latest Flashpoint in the E-Scooter Wars
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This article has been updated with related news about e-scooters in Milwaukee.
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.