With Duluth's first shared-service electric scooter rental business preparing to launch in less than 40 days, city councilors established some rules Monday night to govern the use of those vehicles.
In other action, the council also took up an ordinance Monday that would better regulate a much different type of business that has been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons - massage parlors.
A new type of vehicle could arrive on Duluth's streets come June 1, when a couple of juniors from the University of Minnesota Duluth plan to introduce a service called Leaf - a business that will start with an initial fleet of 50 rechargeable electric scooters.
It's just a beginning, and Jed Irvine, a student majoring in marketing and graphic design at UMD, expects to add to that fleet as the business grows.
Initially, Leaf will focus its efforts in popular tourist areas, including Canal Park, the downtown and Lincoln Park, but his partner, Latisha Forsberg, an accounting and management information systems major, said that as summer transitions into fall, the company will make a push onto college campuses, as well.
"That's the cool thing about this type of business: It can be moved anywhere," she said.
City Council President Noah Hobbs said he has been in contact with the local Leaf team but also has received inquiries from a large national chain called Lime.
As for the effort to regulate services that rent the small electric motorized vehicles, Hobbs said: "I think it was certainly judicious of us to do this prior to the entry of these entities into our market."
But he said that Duluth's decision to take up the issue also likely sent a message.
"Certainly, I think by having an ordinance, it conveyed a level of interest to these companies that might not have previously thought about us," Hobbs said.
Hobbs authored the new ordinance, which passed 8-0 Monday, with 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle absent.
While Hobbs acknowledged the recent ordinance work may have hastened the expected arrival of electric scooters and bikes in Duluth, he predicts they would have been on the scene in two to three years regardless, and now the city is better prepared to handle them.
The ordinance would require e-scooters to operate only where bicycles are allowed and would bar them from using sidewalks in the city's business districts. It also would require scooters to be parked out of the way of pedestrians. The ordinance would mandate rental services carry insurance, as well.
The Duluth City Council also took up another high-profile ordinance Monday, proposed by the city to battle massage parlors that operate as fronts for prostitution. The new rules have been suggested in the wake of a recent bust that closed three purported Twin Ports massage parlors and resulted in charges of sex trafficking and racketering against the couple that owned those businesses.
The new ordinance would require all massage therapists doing business in Duluth to provide documentation proving they had received at least 500 hours of certified training in their field from an accredited school.
Local massage therapists welcomed the new licensing standards but some expressed concern that a few other proposed rules they said could create an undue burden for legitimate businesses.
In response, 1st District City Councilor Gary Anderson successfully made a motion to make a few changes to:
• Broaden the hours of allowed operation to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
• Allow for the door of a massage business to be locked during business hours
• Allow for customer access through more than one door
Anderson said he had run the proposed changes by Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken and told fellow councilors: "The chief feels that this is a reasonable accommodation for the businesses that are here in practice, and at the same time, we would continue to have a strong ordinance that would address the issues of sex trafficking and prostitution and such."
Several massage therapists who run solo practices, said the access requirements proposed in the original ordinance could have forced them to operate in an insecure fashion.
Anderson's motion to amend the proposed ordinance passed on an 8-0 vote.
The amended ordinance received its first reading Monday night. It will return to the Duluth City Council for likely final action on May 13.