Jefferson City residents may see a new scooter-sharing company after the City Council elected to open the market.
City staff is in conversations with the scooter-sharing company Bird, which is interested in expanding to Jefferson City. However, in the future, other companies could also come in.
Council members voted unanimously Monday in favor of an open-market approach to any future scooter-sharing agreements, as long as the company meets certain requirements.
"I don't think this is something that the city can avoid," City Attorney Ryan Moehlman said Monday night during the council meeting. "If the city were to kind of say, 'No, we don't want anything to do with scooters,' I think eventually, we're going to be told that we have to do something with scooters, whether that be through legislation or litigation. So, I think this is an opportunity to really forge our own path as opposed to it being dictated to us in the future."
Moehlman said the city could figure out those requirements down the road but would likely focus on where the vehicles can be placed, how they can be used and notification for users.
Ward 5 Councilman Jon Hensley said he's not in favor of closing a program but would rather see an open-market situation.
One thing, he said, is that he has received complaints over the last three years of rental scooters and bicycles "littered all over town."
"If we're going to have an open program, there has to be a way to regulate placement, numbers of these little vehicles, that doesn't generate so much concern from the general public," he said.
This is a different approach than the city took previously with the bike-share program Spin, which became a scooter-sharing program also.
Under its agreement with Spin, the city entered into an exclusive contract in 2018, which meant it was the only company that could operate within the city.
Moehlman said he isn't sure whether other companies would be interested if the market is open.
"We've had a company (Spin) in Jefferson City who determined they didn't want to be in Jefferson City anymore," he said. "That's the experience of one company. We have another company that is a large national player who is keenly interested in entering Jefferson City."
Scooter- and bike-share programs are a frequent point of conversation for cities, Moehlman said, and experiences and approaches to it vary from city to city.
The question about the city's approach came from Bird, he said. Bird operates scooters in Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis, among others internationally.
"They're saying if (the city wants) to do a more exclusive, comprehensive type of arrangement, we can do that," he said. "If we're going to have something a little bit more open, we can do that as well. They've submitted agreements for either situation."
Since Spin started as a bike-share program and that was the city's original focus in that agreement, Moehlman said, he wanted to get the City Council's input on how the topic should be approached regarding specifically scooters.
"I think this is a question of first impression," he said.
The city is still in early discussions with Bird, and an agreement has not been reached about whether the company will expand to Jefferson City.