Advocates Seek ‘Lighter’ Regulatory Approach as E-Scooters Land in SA

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A young man rides a Bird Scooter downtown on June 23, 2018.

E-scooters, the dockless electric two-wheeled vehicles flocking to major cities throughout the country, have made their way to San Antonio. For regulators, that means another possible quagmire as they walk the tightrope between ensuring safe and proper use and not appearing closed off to transportation innovations.

But there’s a less adversarial feel to the regulatory process this time around, those involved in the process said.

In May 2015, advocacy group Tech Bloc rallied around the issue of rideshare regulation, which had seen ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft depart the city because of what the company saw as unfriendly rules.

(From left) Tech Bloc CEO David Heard hands the microphone to State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio).

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Tech Bloc CEO David Heard.

CEO David Heard said “the lift is much lighter” as conversations on how to regulate the nascent dockless scooter industry get underway in the city.

“We’re not having to start at the beginning and explain the importance of these kinds of innovation economy amenities for our population and our growing tech scene,” Heard said. “I think there’s a general acceptance now, and that’s very different from this time three years ago.”

For its part, the City of San Antonio said new dockless vehicle options have the potential to fill first- or last-mile transportation gaps. City staff is working with companies and stakeholders to create a dockless vehicle pilot program, which will help shape recommendations for a permanent regulatory framework, the Center City Development and Operations Department said in a statement.

“We have contacted dockless scooter providers to be a part of our stakeholder engagement process moving forward,” the City said. “Our recommendations will be presented to City Council later this year, and we hope to strike a balance with these innovative transportation solutions and the safety of our residents and visitors on the public rights-of-way.”

The City urges users of the app-enabled scooters not to park the vehicles where they would obstruct sidewalks or streets. Given e-scooters’ maximum speed of about 15 miles per hour, users should follow traffic laws for similar vehicles such as bicycles, rollerblades, and skateboards.

A valid driver’s license proving one is 18 years or older is required to ride as users must download the respective app to power on the scooter.

Bird released the first fleet of electric scooters into downtown San Antonio last month, charging a $1 base fee and 15 cents for every minute of usage.

“San Antonio and Bird have shared goals of strengthening transportation options for local residents while helping to reduce traffic and congestion,” a Bird spokesperson said. “We look forward to continuing to serve San Antonio with a scalable fleet that meets demand across all parts of the city.”

In recent months, the California-based company unleashed its vehicles in multiple cities in the United States, including Austin.

Often the scooters have been seized or taken off the road after hitting legal snags. City of Austin staff in April rushed to enact a law that would prohibit leaving dockless vehicles on public rights-of-way.

In other cities, the regulatory landscape has typically entailed creating a permitting system, so that only municipally authorized companies could operate dockless vehicles, and capping the number of scooters and bikes per company.

San Francisco adopted an ordinance in April to stem the flow of the quickly proliferating businesses and ensure scooters are being used safely. In June, the Dallas City Council approved a regulatory framework imposing on e-scooter companies permits to operate and fees per vehicle.

Courtesy / LimeBike

LimeBike has announced its intentions to enter the San Antonio market.

In addition to Bird, California-based LimeBike has announced its intentions to enter the San Antonio market. Although the company would not give a timeline for a local launch, it confirmed its impending arrival to the Rivard Report.

“We have had positive discussions with city and community leaders, and are very excited to bring our scooters to San Antonio in the future,” the company said in a statement.

Eric Bell is CEO of Blue Duck Scooters, a locally based company that was founded in March.

Blue Duck expects to enter the e-scooter fray with a fleet of hundreds of units the week of July 9. Users have been testing the scooters in the Pearl area along Broadway Street.

While Bell said capping vehicles and permitting companies is “reasonable for elected leaders to contemplate … it’s not something we’re building our business around.”

Tech Bloc is not keen on the concept of capping vehicles, Heard said. He said the companies’ data-driven approach to scooter placement will ultimately render moot any regulations on the maximum number of vehicles per company.

“Given enough time, all of that will settle out,” he said.

Bell said Blue Duck has national ambitions and is taking steps in its initial growth phase to expand into other Texas markets. But even with its eye on other markets, he said Blue Duck will remain engaged in the local governance process.

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), who chairs the City Council’s Transportation Committee, said the committee is expected to discuss e-scooter regulations at its August meeting.

In the new wave of ridesharing innovation, Heard said Tech Bloc and the broader San Antonio tech community is in a position to have a seat at the table during the regulatory process.

“We want to make sure that, as these sharing economy regulations are put in place, that San Antonio be a place that leans forward on innovation and these kinds of lifestyle amenities that are important to young professionals,” he said.

11 thoughts on “Advocates Seek ‘Lighter’ Regulatory Approach as E-Scooters Land in SA

  1. Yesterday I sat here in my home, with an Airbnb guest in the next room, and watched a man and woman make their way uphill on scooters across the street from me. It looked like so much fun! I hoped they were enjoying their freedom now because I was sure the City would try to suck all the joy out of it somehow.

    David Heard was nice enough to discuss the proposed Airbnb regulations with me several months ago. Since then they became a bit less heavy-handed. Maybe that was his influence…

  2. I think the scooters are going to be here to stay and I am happy for their presence into our transportation future.

  3. As a resident of downtown San Antonio, I have already been almost knocked over by a motorized scooter on a crowded sidewalk.

    I think they are great, but how can we keep them on the streets or bike paths where they are supposed to be? There are no stickers on them informing the user that they should not be ridden on the sidewalks.

    I’m in favor of all forms of alternative transportation, but pedestrians should not have to fear being hit by motorized scooter.

    • And the company, not users, are leaving “pods” of scooters blocking the sidewalk. I’m all for alternative forms of transportation, but the sidewalks are for pedestrians.

  4. E-Scooters, Uber, Lyft, Go Rio boats, bikes, VIA buses, and other alternate transportation systems should be allowed in San Antonio with on-going City regulation and on-going City accommodations, especially in the San Antonio downtown area.

    City accommodations can include enhancing or creating easy-to-use trail/street maps showing City rules and integration of the transportation options.

    For example, touch or click Map 67 in NatureTrailMaps.net for animated routes of Go Rio boats and VIA buses. Touch or click trails for distances. Touch bus stops for bus schedules. E-scooters can be used for the final few blocks.

    Give feedback for how NatureTrailMaps.net be can be enhanced for use as a trails and transit transportation alternative.

  5. We all benefit from alternative transportation. Some of us benefit from shorter commutes and others benefit from less vehicles on the street. But regulations on where to ride, how to integrate their use with cars and other motor vehicles and off pedestrian pathways is key to their acceptance. Those of us that are older and can’t easily hop on a bicycle, appreciate their presence. We want them at UTSA but we to will be visiting regulations for their safe and friendly integration.

  6. I work at Frost Bank downtown Houston St. I have seen these Birds and never been threatened by a birdrider on sidewalk or a parked one. As a matter of fact I look forward to a ride to Rivercenter soon for a quick lunch. Better than a trolley ride and all its stops. I think more of the downtown business will prosper with this innovation to commute freely and safely. No different than a bike drive ride responsibly.

  7. Hi, downtown small business owner here. Th se things are terrible. The employees leave them at the designated dropsnoff spots but the people that ride them don’t care, they just drop them off wherever they please. Helmet laws aren’t being met and or enforced by law enforcement. People under 18 use the e scooters and also ride the scooters 2 people at a time. When they are used on sidewalks, that 15mph speed can knock over someone, I’ve seen them zoom past my shop and worry about when the first major accident of these scooters is going to happen. Oh, let’s also not forgot how virtually over night, it destroyed the Segway tours business.

    This was a terrible idea for city officials to allow such a business to be in our city, while I understand the concept, regulations have not been met and the safety of the people of San Antonio and it’s visitors have not been met. It’s only a matter of time before a accident happens.

  8. As a downtown resident I have seen these around for a while and today we decided to try and ride one. It was simple setup to download the app and create an account. During setup you actually go through a training on not only how to use the scooter, but also where to drive them, requirement for a helmet (if under 21), requirement to furnish a photo of your driver’s license, a valid credit card, agree to only one person on the scooter at a time and it also tells you that you can leave it anywhere as long as it doesn’t block a public area. We found it very easy to operate and we (not all will be) were very conscience of pedestrians on the sidewalk. I think they are a great idea for our city. Now for my concerns – I drive through downtown everyday going to and from work. I see the most dangerous bicycle riders I have seen anywhere in the world on our public streets AND SIDEWALKS. They go through red lights as if daring anyone to hit them and weave in and out of moving traffic. I believe if our police department would start enforcing the laws on bicycles and then on scooters that would greatly make the public more safe. Asd far as the segways I see them all over the sidewalks and along the riverwalk (below the dam) and they are always very courteous and have even stopped for us to pass by with our dogs. The scooters rules also say not to be ridden on the riverwalk or at the Alamo. – Just my 2 cents worth

  9. I’m on board with lighter regulation — but also good deals for the city and residents. Dockless e-scooter companies should help from the start to fund and otherwise resource much needed pedestrian improvements in San Antonio, including on-street parking options where needed for bikes and e-scooters (replacing some on-street car parking to free up too narrow sidewalks).

    I’m also hopeful that dockless scooters and bikes will close some of the gaps in greater downtown VIA and regional mass transit service– no doubt there should be dockless bikes and scooters now at Centro Plaza and Five Points transit hubs as well as at Megabus? If not, that should be a serious concern for the City, but with the same finger pointed at SWellbike (formerly BCycle).

    In San Francisco, dockless scooters appear to have been eliminated (there are still Jump e-bikes and docked Citibikes) but the scooters can be found and seem to be doing well in the surrounding bay area where docked services have not reached (noticeably in Oakland and Alameda, at major transit hubs). Personally, I prefer dockless bikes — which cost less to ride and provide more direct health benefits while moving at about the same speed as the scooters. I like how LIME, specifically, offers and maps both options — scooters and bikes — and the City should steer regulation towards encouraging services that offer bikes and possibly cash payments as options (as LIME does in other cities), noting City commitments to equity.

    Some have equated the dockless e-scooters to Pokemon Go — a hot fad that will likely cool soon enough, including as some users crunch the numbers. The e-scooters retail for about $500 or less through platforms such as Amazon. At a minimum a dollar a ride and roughly $15 an hour with dockless e-scooter services (averaging more along the lines of 6 to 7 miles per hour over longer urban distances, with traffic lights, etc), folks and organizations/offices using the scooters constantly or for long hauls might find it best to get their own. At short distances, it might become apparent to folks that they are better off walking or biking. But at least the dockless scooter services are helping to get pedestrians moving through the city and away from the costly issue of “dockless” cars and the City’s over-expenditure on car infrastructure including parking.

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