Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
A San Antonio-based startup wants to put as many as 1,000 shared electric scooters on downtown streets, but City officials have not yet signed off on the idea.
Eric Bell, co-founder and president of Blue Duck Scooters, calls the motorized scooters a fun transportation option for riders wanting a cheap, sweat-free way to travel short distances in the urban core without using a car, bus, or bike. Users reserve scooters, which the company calls “ducks,” through a mobile phone application that charges users a base fee of $1 per ride with an additional 15 cents per minute of usage.
The vehicles – similar in shape to Razor scooters – don’t use docking stations as do bike-share programs like B-Cycle, a difference that has caused similar shared electric scooter programs around the nation to run afoul of city officials and residents.
Rollouts of similar scooters in the last month have caused controversy in Texas and California. Residents have complained about tripping over the vehicles left standing in public right-of-ways, like sidewalks and the entrances of buildings. In some cities, such as Austin, officials have impounded scooters left on sidewalks.
TechCrunch reported on Monday that San Francisco’s City Attorney sent cease-and-desist letters to three companies operating shared electric scooter programs, stating that they are creating a public nuisance.
Bell said Blue Duck, which describes itself as a “disruptive” transportation option, wants to work with the City to ensure that the scooters are released in “good faith.” He said that he has had “productive” conversations with various City officials about introducing the scooters.
In an email to the Rivard Report, Center City Development & Operations Department Director John Jacks said Monday that the City is working on developing rules for dockless vehicle-share programs and that Blue Duck “expressed an interest” in participating in the creation of regulations.
“These dockless transportation products are very new and have the potential to fill first/last mile transportation gaps,” Jacks said. “Cities throughout the country are working to develop appropriate regulatory systems that strike the correct balance for their community.”
An initial stakeholder meeting will be held in early May to get input from the public and vehicle-share providers on what such a program should look like, Jacks said. A recommendation on the matter will be made to the City’s Transportation Committee for its consideration.
Bell said that he is aware of the safety and liability issues surrounding similar products in other marketplaces.
“We’re not here to just drop 1,000 ducks in front of City Hall,” Bell said. “This is an eventuality, and we think [the City is] going to have more success negotiating with us, who want to find ways to limit the rough edges that exist around this developing marketplace.”
Here’s how the scooter-share would work: a user downloads the Blue Duck mobile phone application, which is still in development, and registers a profile with a credit card, driver’s license, and phone number. Once a user is enrolled, a map shows the location of each “duck” available for reservation. The scooters would be grouped together in “pods” and placed in areas where they are likely to be used, Bell said. He said the Pearl, the Museum Reach, and downtown were locations for Blue Ducks’ beta testing.
The 24-pound scooters are ready to cruise after having their QR code scanned by the phone. Their batteries are capable of traveling a total of 18 miles with a maximum speed of about 15 miles per hour.
Bell portrayed the vehicles as ideal for people who need to travel short distances. He likened it as a solution for the “last-mile” problem in transportation, whereby people arrive to places in the urban core by car or bus but want a separate mode of transportation to navigate short distances.
Bell, who also serves as a founding member of TechBloc, provided the example of someone who needed to go from one of the downtown offices to a restaurant at the Pearl.
“Am I going to take an Uber, or am I going to take a duck, or am I going to drive and have to deal with parking?” Bell said. “That’s the problem that we solve.”
“Ducks” are only a daytime method of transportation, Bell said. Crews will track and locate the scooters inside their established perimeter and pick them up for storage and inspection after sunset each night.