‘Healthy Medium’ Struck as City Floats Parking Rules, Age Limit, Operating Fees for E-Scooters

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People on scooters turn onto East Houston Street.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

People on LimeBike scooters turn onto East Houston Street along the tech corridor.

The City of San Antonio opted for a light touch in proposing rules for dockless e-scooters Wednesday, garnering support from both City Council members and the companies that will be subject to them.

Preliminary regulations include operating and applications fees that would total $17,500 for San Antonio’s largest e-scooter operator, a minimum age of 16 for riders, and parking enforcement backed by fines and two-hour deadlines for correcting violations.

But the recommendations presented at a City Council session Wednesday did not call for a prohibition on sidewalk use; rather, riders should use their best judgment whether to use the roadway or the sidewalk and leave a minimum of a two-foot walking path for pedestrians, according to staff recommendations.

The proposed regulations are looser than those that have been put into effect in cities such as Austin; Dallas; Durham, North Carolina; and San Francisco. The latter three municipalities banned e-scooters from being ridden on sidewalks. Unlike Austin and San Francisco, San Antonio is not putting a cap on the number of vehicles that can be introduced in the city.

Santa Monica, California-based e-scooter company Bird launched in late June and released hundreds of its dockless electric scooters in downtown San Antonio. Its fleet has since increased to 1,700 citywide, said Lori Houston, assistant city manager.

That means more than 2,000 e-scooters are being ridden in the city. City staff said five other companies have expressed interest in operating in San Antonio, which could double the total number of vehicles, Houston said.

Unlike its fierce opposition to rideshare when Uber and Lyft began offering rides in the city, San Antonio City Council has greeted Bird and San Mateo, California-based competitor LimeBike in a welcoming fashion, and the balance of the Council found Wednesday’s proposals both considerate of public safety concerns and accommodating to innovation.

“I think you’ve landed on a good healthy medium here,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told Houston after the presentation.

On Oct. 11, the council is set to vote on whether to approve the proposed regulations in the form of a six-month pilot program and not a permanent ordinance. The City will collect data and input during the pilot period and present a full regulatory framework for council consideration in April or May of next year.

Blanca Laborde, Bird’s senior manager of government relations, said Bird supports the proposed rules, including a $17,500 cost to operate during the six-month pilot program. Per the recommendations, the City would collect a $500 application fee from companies seeking to operate in the city and $10 per vehicle. The City would also be able to assess a $50 fee for every parking violation or other incident that breaks with the prescribed policy framework.

“We believe responsible regulation is important as dockless mobility [expands] in San Antonio,” she said later during a public hearing on dockless vehicle regulations at City Hall. “Many of the essential elements in your ordinance are critical to providing a safe … option.”

Companies would have two hours to correct any parking violations and one hour if a scooter is parked in a prohibited area. The proposed rules call for scooters to be parked in such a way that provides a 3-foot walking path.

Under the rules, Bird and LimeBike, which has about 300 scooters in San Antonio, would be required to have a San Antonio-based fleet manager to correct any unauthorized use.

Patti Zaiontz, a downtown tour guide, said she’s had many dangerous encounters with scooterists zipping down sidewalks. She believes they should be regulated in the city as bicycles and similar modes of transportation are – barred from sidewalks.

“We have a lot of folks who come here and see our beautiful city,” Zaiontz said. “Our sidewalks should not be cluttered with scooters. Keep them away from our sidewalks, and keep them away from our tourists.”

David Heard, who heads local tech sector advocacy group Tech Bloc, said he was “super encouraged” by the City’s presentation.

Heard said a proposed minimum riding age of 16 jibes with the industry standard; most of the major operators restrict usage to drivers’ license holders who are 18 or older. That is largely because injury liability lies with e-scooter companies, and there is wide disparity between the insurance premiums for people aged 18 and older and anyone younger than that.

Tech Bloc CEO David Heard speaks his opinion regarding dockless scooters.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Tech Bloc CEO David Heard speaks at a public hearing on dockless vehicles.

Also, a black-and-white approach to regulating sidewalk use is not safe, he said.

“There’s going to be situations around location, weather, time of day, where it’s just going to make more sense to not be on the roadway,” Heard said. “Letting people use their best judgment is the way to go.”

A third company, homegrown Blue Duck Scooters, has been operating in the city for a few months with a limited fleet. Government affairs representative Casey Whittington said the proposed regulations are in line with what the company expected.

“We really like the framework that was presented today,” Whittington said.

But shades of the vexation that the City felt during its battle with rideshare companies a few years ago crept into Wednesday’s meeting.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) said Bird “pulled an Uber” when it launched in June without notifying the City. He said he wants e-scooter companies to provide data so that council can make the most informed policy decisions possible.

“The first organization [Bird] didn’t meet with anyone,” he said. “As part of the permitting process, I would ask they commit to some level of reporting. … I have genuine concern about … revisiting organizations that like to bully their way into the market.”

13 thoughts on “‘Healthy Medium’ Struck as City Floats Parking Rules, Age Limit, Operating Fees for E-Scooters

  1. I’m glad the safety expert David Heard and the scooter companies got everything they wanted. Heard is fooling himself if he thinks people are going to use their best judgement. More restrictions on sidewalk riding better come in six months time. More people probably will get hurt by a reckless rider. I’ve personally had to pull out the pepper spray when a scooter has come right at me or clipped me from behind and I will again.

    Shame on the council committee for caving.

  2. Sidewalks are for WALKING. Nobody at City Hall or Tech Bloc cares about Seniors on downtown sidewalks. If a scooter is left on a sidewalk in front of me I consider it abandoned and a piece of trash and I will knock it over. I like the comment about pepper spray and am getting a can at Academy so beware of Seniors Mr.Tech Bloc.

    • Don’t be careless with it. I never said I’ve used it on people. In fact, I’ve only actually used pepper spray once and that was on a dog. It is a good defensive tool if you ride the bus a lot and walk in areas where loose dogs run around which is almost anywhere. Or spend considerable time downtown.

      • I live downtown…….Houston Street……and the old, narrow sidewalks don’t allow room for scotters……..and the police are reluctant to enforce any laws because it is a misdomeaner and they complain about the paperwork so seniors are on their own . Mayor and Council never walk downtown because they are driven by their staff everywhere. It is a fact. They are so out of the real streets,

  3. For over nine years I’ve walked downtown three or four days a week. Through La Villita and Hemisfair Plaza, Alamo Plaza, and west on Houston Street. Then, back to the Pearl via the Riverwalk. I’ve watched hundreds of expensive apartments proliferate, along with a growing homeless population. Puzzling. Personally, I haven’t had any negative encounters with scooter riders, although I’ve had to step over scooters strewn right in the pathway on sidewalks. The scooter thing just makes it evident that readily convenient public transportation is a pressing need and requires some creative solutions. Along with homelessness, healthcare, immigration, etc. But, let’s argue about why we shouldn’t move the Cenotaph.

  4. It’s always “follow the money.” The goal should be to find out if industry contributions are flowing to David Heard and/or Tech Bloc. So far, the link isn’t obvious but if there is anything to find, the contributions could be taking a circuitous route.

  5. I posted on the FB page but here goes anyway. I’m tired of the worship being afforded to these deckles MOTORISED VEHICLES. They do not belong on the sidewalk, period. Asking riders to “use their best judgement”, really? When so many of them ride against traffic, operate at high speeds for fun on sidewalks and ignore the pedestrians who ask them to get in the road? Put in more bike lanes, we need them, sure but why are pedestrians constantly given the short end of the stick here? They also need to be parked in a designated area. Dockless just increases the feeling of irresponsibility on the part of riders who are apparently too good to be inconvenienced by walking a block; or taking the bus like the rest of us. They ARE an eyesore especially parked will-nilly downtown. Finally I think City Council is deeply foolish to not cap the number of vehicles and companies coming in. Lets see how this goes in six months. As a non-driving, public transit-taking pedestrian and downtown resident I resent very much people treating the area as their own personal playground.

  6. I think the scooters are great. Just wish I were young enough to use them.
    I’ve lived downtown 26 years and am ‘out and about’ everyday.

    Very much of senior age at almost 89.

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