Bike-share conundrum continues to rile Paradise Valley Town Council

These brightly colored bicycles are ride share bikes offering transportation around the city. (submitted photo)

There’s no easy answer to the conundrum of how to embrace technological innovation in the Town of Paradise Valley while at the same time devising a proper way to address rogue bicycles — a product of emerging bike-share models — in and around town limits.

During a March Paradise Valley Town Council meeting, officials discussed the next steps to address bicycles officials say are migrating in from Scottsdale and Phoenix.

Paradise Valley Town Council first discussed the topic at the end of February, and Councilman Scott Moore says he has heard all negative feedback on the bicycles from local residents.

In recent months a handful of bike-share companies moved into the Valley of the Sun, resulting in various bicycles being littered along sidewalks, in yards, in canals and in various other precarious locations.

Bike-share programs, also known as docked or dockless bikes, is a way for commuters to pick up a bicycle at any self-serve bike station. To the celebration of some and chagrin of others, some companies allow their bicycles to be left anywhere, while others have to be returned to their designated racks.

While the bike companies aren’t in business with the Town of Paradise Valley, their products are being ridden across municipal boundaries. In addition, the town’s resorts find value in having the bicycles for guests, town officials say.

A view of when a bicycle from the local bike-share program is not conscientiously left behind for the next user (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

Paradise Valley Town Council appeared torn on the issue as some members vocalized support for letting the industry work the issue out on its own, while others were looking for an immediate resolution.

According to Deputy Town Manager Dawn Marie Buckland, public works and police department employees have been addressing the bicycles found throughout town, which is time consuming for local workers, she said.

However, through working with the bike share companies over the past few weeks, a number of new facts have been brought to light since the first bike share discussion, she says.

“One of the things we found that was really driving that (left behind bicycles), they weren’t actually dropping bikes off here in town, they were dropping them off in Scottsdale and in Phoenix,” Ms. Buckland told the town council.

“They actually had managers over their particular areas, it was within the boundaries of those management areas that those managers were responsible for policing and picking up bikes on a 24-hour basis. We were kind of left out of that window.”

Ms. Buckland says she’s been working with three bicycle companies on a daily basis, and there are now identified points of contacts for the town when they have bicycle issues. In addition, options like geo-fencing are available at the town’s disposal, she says.

The key questions presented to the town council by Ms. Buckland included what policies should be employed to facilitate a good outcome, and how to establish an ordinance that accomplishes these goals?

“I wince every time I see them when I’m driving through PV,” Mayor Michael Collins said.

“I’m optimistic that there’s a non-regulatory solution. I would rather town staff not have to deal with this issue at all, and have the industry be able to self-police, self-regulate, self-enforce and deal with it.”

Town officials contend about 20 bicycles per week are being impounded by the police department, and it costs the town about $35-$40 per bicycle.

Workable solutions

Ms. Buckland says LimeBike and ofo, two companies she’s working closely with, are both wanting to work with Paradise Valley on the issues.

“One of the things that came back, and actually just today, was the idea of geofencing,” Ms. Buckland said. “That is one of the tools that’s at our disposal here.”

She is also working to figure out where it’s OK to leave bikes, and where it’s not.

Dawn Marie Buckland

“We want to make sure that it’s more generalized, and figure out where it’s OK to leave bikes and where it’s not,” she said. “It’d be difficult for us to say, ‘hey you can’t ride them in Paradise Valley.’ At the same time we have to be careful about where we park these.”

Ideas presented include designating acceptable areas to park, emailed rules of use, and a rating system of riders that would weed out regularly poor users.

Using the White House as an example, Ms. Buckland described that LimeBike has a geofence around the national monument with fines associated.

“If you in fact park a bike in front of the White House, and you have registered that bike, and it’s very clear that was your rental they’re able to charge a fine against that,” she said.

“Those are the types of options available. However, is it actually something they could implement and something we could defend and support?”

Ms. Buckland says she’s heard from both LimeBike and ofo that they’re committed to working with the town.

“What I’ve heard from both of the companies is they are committed to, if we can define what that looks like, helping to develop those policies internally and those tools to help us get there,” she said.

“I believe a good outcome is finding a good way for those who ride bikes into Paradise Valley know where an acceptable place would be to park and leave the bike that doesn’t create a hazard of any kind, an accessibility issue or the clutter of bicycles in public rights of ways. If we can define where those places are, and work with the industry, I think there are different ways to get there.”

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

How to address the issue

Mr. Moore, who wrote an article for the Independent regarding the new bike-share programs, says he received throngs of negative feedback from the editorial in his local newspaper.

“I wrote an article on this and I can tell you that I’ve never received so much feedback from residents through phone calls and emails — not one of them supported this dockless system,” he said.

Scott Moore

“And, I’m not supportive of it either. For a resident that lives in the town and rides their bike to and from the resort, whether it’s work or pleasure, wouldn’t they typically own their own bike?”

Mr. Moore proposed a resorts-only type of idea, where the town’s hospitality industry was responsible for managing and corralling the bicycles.

“I think maybe people could get behind that,” he said.

Following the last conversation on dockless bicycles, Mr. Moore says he was expecting to receive information on the town’s cost for collecting, impounding and transporting the bikes.

“I didn’t see that anywhere in our packet,” he said to town staff. “What I see in the packet is ‘hey this dockless system is a great idea, let’s look at all the ways of doing it.’ That’s what I see in this packet.”

Town Manager Kevin Burke explained the council’s direction to town staff was to find a solution to remove the bicycles from unwanted places at no cost to the town.

“What we’ve heard is we don’t want to see bikes deployed here,” Mr. Moore said of resident concerns.

“Our instruction was for you to go back and immediately pick them up, not for you to become part of the ride-share program as a staff. I mean no wonder we look at why we add staff all the time, which is great that you’re managing to pick these bikes up, that’s a lot of work on your behalf.”

Town staff says there are two approaches to achieve a desirable outcome.

“What Dawn-Marie is describing to you is there are two approaches — can we get to the same outcomes through a non-regulatory approach and working with the companies saying, ‘OK you have to be more responsible picking these up,’” Mr. Burke said.

Ms. Buckland says if the town appears to be outlawing bike shares, then it will position themselves as a target for the legislation.

“We’re trying to mitigate the impacts here; we have different options to do that,” she said.

Councilman Paul Dembow pointed to Paradise Valley’s experience with drones a couple of years ago, where the state overruled the town’s position.

Paul Dembow

“I look at what we did with the drones, we passed a drone ordinance and then it was promptly overruled,” Mr. Dembow said. “I see that the industry — everybody hates it — so the industry can’t be a business model that succeeds very long.

Mr. Collins said he is hesitant to jump toward an ordinance this early in the game.

“I’m probably more hesitant to jump toward a punitive ordinance to regulate this early in the cycle of technology,” he said.

“Personally I’d like to see where it gets. Can the industry self-regulate? Can they deal with the problem?”

Mr. Dembow agreed with Mr. Collins, describing the bicycles as a business model that the resorts love, but residents hate.

“I agree with the mayor, let’s see what they come up with because if they’re getting pressure off of our small town of 13,000 they’ve got to be getting pressure from everybody,” he said.

Councilwoman Julie Pace, a lawyer by trade, says she questioned being able to allow the private bicycle businesses use public rights-of-way to park their bike.

“I’m worried if we let one business in on the right-of-way and we’re not charging, we’re not permitting and we’re not licensing them to do work in our rights-of-ways. Why does that not mean I can’t start one tomorrow to sell my stuff?” Ms. Pace asked.

“I think the legal risk at the top 30,000-foot level is bigger than the chaos of looking at the visual corridor.”

Mr. Dembow vocalized a desire to hear from officials with the bicycle companies, if there are potential technological approaches available to help the bicycle issue.

“I’d like to speak with employees of that company how the geosystem works, what they’re working on to do it and know the timeline of that,” he said. “Because none of us seem to want to address this technology that’s going to be outdated in six months.”

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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