PROVINCETOWN — Dockless electric scooters that can be rented online wherever they are found and then dropped anywhere when customers are done using them have appeared on Commercial Street.
The battery-powered vehicles have become popular in cities around the world. Brands such as Bird and Lime promote them as part of the “micro-mobility” movement.
But in Provincetown, some are asking whether they will become a nuisance. For now, there are no town regulations prohibiting the rental of the scooters or dictating where they can be left at the end of a ride.
The new business, called Storm Scooters, is owned by Chris Siar and Karen Peloquin. They received permission to operate from the licensing board at a hearing on June 28.
“Instead of picking out a scooter from a certain location and returning it there at the end of their ride, our customers can leave their scooter wherever they finish,” said Siar. Mobile technology allows a would-be rider to pick up a scooter and start his ride by scanning a QR code on his phone. Each scooter is tracked by a GPS system connected to the app.
Provincetown Code Compliance Officer Aaron Hobart said that, because e-scooters are a new technology, the town’s bylaws do not specifically address them. “We only enforce regulations that are written,” he said, “and there are no regulations on where [the scooters] can be left at the end of their rental.”
Hobart acknowledged that new rules might be needed.
“It may get to the point where they want to write regulations about something that becomes a problem,” he said. “Usually, those things are reactionary because of the new technology and new business models.”
The approval of the Storm Scooters license surprised Heather Baker and Erika Apicella, the owners of Coast, another local vehicle rental business. They believed they had been prevented from renting e-scooters partly by fears that the devices would clog crowded public ways.
In 2018, Baker and Apicella tried to rent scooters in an arrangement similar to that of Storm Scooters, with the vehicles left on the streets for customers to pick up. They were not allowed to do so because town officials said they could not rent vehicles, or sell anything, on public land.
After several hearings in 2018, the select board decided that the Coast scooters could be rented and dropped off only on private property, Baker said. Eventually, Baker and Apicella made arrangements to rent their scooters from the Harbor Hotel at 698 Commercial St. But they assumed the scooters had to be picked up at the end of the ride rather than left on public property.
“We’ve had the capability for two years now with our software,” said Baker, “but we never activated it because we thought the town would not allow scooters to be left on public property.”
Hobart said that, to his knowledge, Storm Scooters has abided by all local retail licensing laws. And he said Baker’s business, Coast, is free to rent e-scooters under the motorized vehicle license they already hold.
Baker said she plans to do just that, in light of the licensing board’s vote on June 28.
“We’ve already placed an order for scooters that don’t require a locking mechanism and have the same IoT [internet of things] that Storm is using,” Baker said on June 29.
Baker told the Independent that she has received complaints by text, email, and telephone about the dockless e-scooters now starting to be scattered around the streets. She worries about the effect this may have on her business and on the reputation of e-scooters in general.
At the licensing hearing last week Peloquin expressed her willingness to work with the town to develop new rules for scooters.
The licensing process itself was rocky for Peloquin and Siar. “The town told us we were all set to operate and then came back and let us know that we actually needed to come in for a hearing,” said Peloquin.
Linda Fiorella, the town’s licensing agent, called what happened an “oversight.” Hobart said the written regulations regarding electric rental vehicles are relatively new.
“In the motorized bike rental regs it says ‘two-wheeled motorized vehicles,’ ” said Hobart. “It’s just those three words in the middle of the regs which qualifies these new scooters.”