Scooters in Flower Mound

Five scooters were left at The Hound Mound recently.

It wasn't quite the scooter dump that other cities in North Texas have faced, but it was enough to get Flower Mound's attention.

During Monday's Town Council meeting Town Manager Jimmy Stathatos said some dockless scooters were recently discovered in the town. Specifically, five scooters were discovered at The Hound Mound dog park, and a few were also found at a local church.

Companies that operate dockless scooters and bikes are nothing new to North Texas, though it hasn't been an issue in Flower Mound until recently.

The idea is to provide a transportation option for the “final mile” of the person's destination that can't be achieved in a car or truck, such as around the North Central Texas College campus on Cross Timbers Road.

Those who wish to use such devices use a credit card to activate the scooter, and they drop off the device when they're done.

J.P. Walton, assistant to the town manager, said he called and asked the company to remove them, and he said they haven't been back since.

“I don't know if it was planned by the company to drop them off or if someone just rode them here and left them,” Walton said.

Still, town officials want to get a grip on the matter considering what other cities have gone through.

Town Attorney Bryn Meredith pointed to problems that have happened around North Texas. In December, Bird Rides, Inc. dropped off around 200 scooters  in Frisco.

“These are obviously pedestrian hazards,” Meredith said. “They can affect the ability of people who need assistance with mobility from accessing the rights-of-way, crossing the street, etc.”

Meredith said the town staff asked him to research the town's options in regulating the scooters. These wouldn't apply to personal scooters.

“My finding is essentially we have full discretion to regulate our rights-of-way,” Meredith said.

Meredith said there are several options, including prohibiting the dockless scooters entirely or licensing the town's rights-of-way similar to what it does for franchise agreements with utility companies.

Meredith said the town can regulate where scooters can be used and where they can be docked.

But Meredith said requiring them to be docked presents challenges in that they could be docked to stop signs or other traffic control devices.

He said the town can implement a permitting program where the operator has to obtain a permit to operate it or leave it within the rights-of-way.

Meredith said the town can limit the number of devices permitted within the public rights-of-way.

He said the town can also establish geographic boundaries where the town feels the devices are appropriate and prohibit them elsewhere.

Meredith said there are legal considerations. He said if the town rents the rights-of-way, it could be held liable since it would be “partnering” with the operator.

“Alternatively (for) the permitting process the argument could be made that we're only collecting an administrative fee for the application, but we're allowing private companies to generate profit through the use of our rights-of-way without collecting any revenue,” Meredith said. “Essentially, potentially a gift of public funds.”

Meredith referenced the use of small cell devices and not being compensated by private telecommunications companies for access of the town's rights-of-way that have been acquired by using public funds.   

There have been many cities that have experienced problems with the shared scooters and bikes. In Dallas, they created a walkability issue as they flooded the streets and sidewalks. Meredith referenced instances in Austin when the devices have been dumped into the river. He said when a city impounds them, the operator often abandons them because it's cheaper to buy new ones than to pay a fee.

Meredith said the town has a general prohibition on obstructing the right-of-way it can rely on to issue a citation and take possession of the device.

“But that doesn't address someone riding down the sidewalk at a relatively high speed,” Meredith said.

The council plans to discuss the matter further at its upcoming strategic planning session.

“This is only going to get worse,” said Mayor Steve Dixon. “This is only the beginning of this type of activity.”

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