City Tightens Regulations on Electric Scooters, Bikes

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Scooters line Soledad Street.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Scooters line Soledad Street in downtown San Antonio.

San Antonio has increased regulations for the growing fleet of scooters and electric bikes that have crowded sidewalks throughout the urban core.

City Council on Thursday added new measures to its pilot program for dockless e-scooters and e-bikes, designed to test rules for the nascent industry. The City started out with light regulations including a minimum rider age of 16 and barring the vehicles from the River Walk and other recreational areas. But scooters were deemed permissible for sidewalk use, and enforcement proved challenging early in the pilot program for a limited number of City employees policing how the scooters met municipal parking standards.

“Bottom line, the light touch has not worked out,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said. “We have a lot of scooters – specifically downtown – and many of them can cause a lot of issues for pedestrians simply trying to get to where they need to go.”

The City has now imposed an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Bird and Lime, the city’s two largest operators with more than 8,000 permitted e-scooters combined, use contractors to collect the vehicles at night, charge them, and then redistribute them along city thoroughfares. The scooters that remain charged, however, are not picked up and can be ridden late at night. The new curfew would require the companies to make scooters inoperable during curfew hours.

More than 40 percent of the 93 injuries reported to the city’s Emergency Medical Services occurred between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., according to a City presentation at Thursday’s Council meeting. A City spokeswoman told the Rivard Report after the meeting that the number of scooter-related injuries has climbed to 101.

A 21-year-old Irish man was killed in Austin earlier this month after riding the wrong way on a rented e-scooter on a stretch of Interstate 35 frontage road near that city’s downtown. The incident occurred at 1 a.m.

The slight vehicles are equipped with lights on the handlebars and tail lights, but companies are redesigning new generations of their scooters to include reflective paint and other safety features to help motorists spot them.

Other updated regulations include identifying areas where the dockless vehicles must be removed to accommodate construction, downtown maintenance work, and special events. Downtown landowners pay into a public improvement district in downtown San Antonio, which funds such services as washing the sidewalks at night. Largely concentrated downtown, the city’s dockless vehicle fleets have impeded workers’ ability to power-wash the sidewalks, said Warren Wilkinson, executive director of the nonprofit Centro San Antonio.

The amended pilot program also gives the City the ability to impound dockless vehicles in prohibited areas, such as the Mission Reach and Alamo Plaza, and those blocking ramps for wheelchair users.

More than 14,000 dockless vehicles – 12,100 e-scooters and 2,000 e-bikes – have been permitted under the six-month pilot program, which is slated to end in April. In late January at a Transportation Committee meeting, the City Council voted to close permitting applications for the remainder of the pilot period.

It remains to be seen whether the Council will choose to cap the number of dockless vehicles it allows once the pilot program ends. About two-thirds of the permitted vehicles are deployed on a daily basis, City officials have said. Still, about 63 percent of respondents to a City survey on the pilot program have said they would like to see fewer vehicles. The survey, a follow-up to a public engagement process that preceded the pilot program, was sent out two weeks ago and has thus far polled 2,863 residents. The survey can be found here.

Councilman John Courage (D9) suggested the City consider issuing a bid to contract with the top two dockless vehicle operators and limit the number of authorized vehicles, an idea that garnered support from other Council members. Concerned about indirect costs associated with enforcing the City’s scooter rules, Courage said the City should only contract companies that will agree to share revenue to offset the expense of clearing the path for pedestrians and enforcing traffic rules.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said none of his constituents like scooters. As his office has fielded an increasing number of negative calls regarding the scooters, Pelaez said he has discovered why scooters elicit such an emotional response: Private companies are profiting off of taxpayers’ investment – sidewalks – and rendering them less useful for residents.

“I think it’s reasonable for San Antonio taxpayers to expect some kind of return when someone is making money [using public infrastructure],” he said, while advocating for a revenue-sharing model.

But Mayor Ron Nirenberg called for patience from his Council as the pilot program winds down into its final months, adding there remains time for the market to correct the perceived overload of dockless vehicles.

“I hope the rest of the pilot will help us figure out what further tweaks we need to make,” he said.

18 thoughts on “City Tightens Regulations on Electric Scooters, Bikes

  1. Increased distribution to ALL sectors of the city should be a priority for the Board. I rarely see dockless scooters, particularly in communities of color and in the suburbs. Distribution would reduce urban core scooter congestion as well.

  2. The whole city is a community of color! You may need to get out a little more? I have seen scooters in every part of town. Now inforce the regs!

  3. The scooters being ridden late at night was helping alleviate San Antonio’s DWI culture. I’d rather have a drunk riding a scooter than driving a vehicle that could possibly kill others and themselves. They might injure themselves but at least they are not putting other lives in danger for their bad decisions. An unfortunate step backwards.

    • Scooters stop at 11. Buses stop at 12:30 (or earlier). Bars close at 2. What gives? Drinking and driving is always a personal decision but COSA is setting people up for failure.

      Most scooter injuries happen after 11pm? Well, the majority (70%) of impaired crashes in Texas happen on weekend nights from 9pm to 2am (Texas SHSP). If you’re going to cite data for a decision then at least gather ALL relevant data.

  4. These scooters can work IF some corrective steps are taken:
    1. Drastically limit number of scooters to 2500 total citywide
    2. Scooter companies create geofence technology to shut scooter off when ridden on Riverwalk, Alamo, parks, etc.
    3. Scooter companies create tech that makes rider park scooter in designated area or they are charged more for use
    4. Top speed of scooter 8-9mph
    5. Strict enforcement of proper use with $250-500 fines

    • I like the way you think Concerned Citizen! I live in Blue Star area and they fly down the Mission Trail. My dogs and I have nearly been hit several times because they do not slow down now announce they are approaching! Also it is my understanding they are not allowed on Mission Trail anyway but no enforcement takes place!

    • Imagine if we were as “concerned” about vehicle safety (which kills 40,000 Americans annually, by the way) as we are about e-scooters. I’d love to see a drastic limit on the number of motor vehicles citywide and especially downtown, technology that slows vehicles down in downtown, in school zones, and in residential neighborhoods, applied top speeds for vehicles, and stricter enforcement via cameras and other technology. Imagine.

  5. Driving on downtown streets with scooters in and around me on the streets is VERY dangerous.
    I also don’t like to find scooters piled up on my front yard in King William.

    • My toddler was almost run over twice as she walked by my side, and both instances were in places where the scooters are not permitted (Pearl and Brackenridge). Further, scooters blocking sidewalks for people in wheelchairs (have seen this on Broadway) and parents with strollers is SO frustrating because it is public space. I have gotten an upper body workout when tossing these dumb things into the grass several times. Maybe a new workout routine?! haha.
      To have these scooters on your front lawn must be infuriating because these companies chose to thrust themselves into cities without measures to ensure safety and proper use in public. Not a good “corporate citizen” move. Get them out of here (like Milwaukee did) and allow people here to WALK places and burn off some extra calories.

  6. “But Mayor Ron Nirenberg called for patience “. We the drivers call for Mayor Nirenberg to work with US ARMY to open up New Braunfels Avenue one and for all at the Fort Sam Houston. How can the city grant all these building permits all along Broadway from Hildebrand to McCullough, yet the city lefts drivers to one driving lane from South to North. No use to drive on Alamo since that has stops signs at every corner and the traffic light that feeds from Alamo to Broadway lets two cars in before turning red. Besides, SAWS is performing all these improvements on Broadway and SAWS afford the LUXURUY of not paying for SAPD traffic control. When SAPD (paid by SAWS ) should be dedicating at least 6 traffic officers to Broadway & Grayson, Broadway and Josephine, Broadway and Alamo, Broadway and Doseum, Broadway and Mulberry to move the traffic along. If not all day, at least from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm. In sum, mayor should work at once with US ARMY to open up New Braunfels, to alleviate MAJOR congestion on Broadway due to all construction going on and to make it feasible for people to attend the RODEO as well. We the drivers are the ones running out of patience with one traffic lane on Broadway, no traffic control and no alternative routes that are truly feasible. It is our right to use New Braunfels, if not it is a least the right thing to do.

    • Can I vote this up? Work downtown, live 2 miles up Broadway. 45 minutes to get 2 miles on Wed . Night.. Guess what? It was 12 minutes on my bike on Thursday and I didn’t even break a sweat! OKAY, now I believe in BIKELANES.
      It was fun, easy, and healthy. Frowns on every driver I passed at a constant 14 mph ( they were averaging 3 ).
      We do need bikelanes or bikeways. This SAWS debacle just emphasizes that we need to use roadways as much as possible for ALL transportation, and re-opening Fort Sam, including that portion of Salado Creek!
      Going to use the bike more, and wait years and years for change. It’s only going to get worse!, with new midtown residents, construction of many new buildings, esp. near Pearl, and a 2 or 3 year Broadway re-construction.

      • It has everything to do with scooters, because to be a safe, feasible and effective method of transportation, there needs to be a dedicated and continuous bike lane on Broadway, which should be for bikes and scooters. As it is at present, we barely have a car lane from South to North.

        • Agree that we need dedicated bike lane or street moving north/south and another east/west. Totally agree. I was just confused about the commenter’s rant about SAWS and SAPD, etc etc.

  7. Everyone is making a big deal out of the scooters and taking the fun out of them.I see them all over and it’s great to have people riding scooters enjoying the outdoors like it should be.If people get hurt just make sure you make it clear you’re not responsible for injuries.I like how because there are so much of them people are getting upset but people on bikes (owned personal) ones can ride their bikes however they want.It will be sad to see the fun taken out of the use of scooters when too many rules and regulations are implemented and prices go up in order to use them in certain areas.Such a shame!

    • These scooters are fine IF we have dedicated bike/scooter lanes so children, adults, and pets do not get inadvertently injured as they walk on pedestrian paths (ie. sidewalks, parks, etc.). We also need dedicated places to park these things. OR, let’s focus on dedicated roads with numerous electric busses that function like a light rail train (without spending billion$). Less clutter, air conditioned, on time, ample space, and effective public trans.
      Further, you cannot tell me that historical or cultural places in the city LOOK better with colored metal trash (toppled scooters EVERYWHERE). San Antonio is a tourist destination and a good portion of our revenue as a city comes from tourists.

  8. I agree with Bridgette. Scooters are safer for bystanders than cars, motorcycles, bikes. They are fun, great for the environment, and great for the vibrancy of the city. They are being ridden on our sidewalks by taxpayers who have as much right to clutter up the sidewalks with their presence as people with strollers do. (Full disclosure: I am a stroller pusher, not a scooter rider.) As to having too many scooters in some areas and not enough in others, this is basics economics. They end up where people used them last. Anyone can get a scooter and ride it anywhere. The scooters end up where the demand is, just like everything else in a market economy. Why should city government waste tax dollars enforcing rules to make them be put somewhere they aren’t wanted?

  9. Here are my scooter thoughts, and a general comment that San Antonio is one of he most attractive places to visit and explore I have ever seen. Been travelling the country for about 1-1/2 years now, and love it here – except for the pollen. As an old guy with bad knees for walking, I thoroughly enjoyed riding a scooter around the downtown area on last Thursday and Friday afternoons. Great way to see a lot of your lovely city at a pedestrian pace. The ability to get off the scooter and walk the river walk then come up at the other end and find another scooter is a real benefit. Being able to park a little farther out for $5 rather than $12 for a couple hours is another benefit.

    Most of the people I saw on the little vehicles were smiling. Kids (teens on up) on Limes WERE traveling too fast on the sidewalks. I would encourage the city to mandate that the scooters cannot be operated in prohibited areas. I do not think creating that software would be a problem. The Uber I used would not go over a walking pace on a sidewalk or promenade. The app for the scooter I was on had a map that would not allow you to park in a prohibited area, and it may be that it would not turn off, and keep charging you money, if you left it there (that could be wishful thinking, but would discourage that sort of behavior).

    Riding a scooter next to the curb on the street was a bit bumpy but tolerable. As you become used to the little vehicle, you are a safer operator. I did cheat and ride on some empty sidewalks when the street was too bumpy. These scooters would never work in Virginia or Pennsylvania – they would be swallowed by potholes. Congratulations to you Texans on the general condition of Texas streets and highways, and to you San Antonians for keeping up such a lovely city. I complimented a number of you on your city, and everyone I spoke to about it – white, African-American, Hispanic and a guy from Serbia all love the place and would not live anywhere else. Too bad about that pollen.

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