Jeffrey Sullivan / Rivard Report
Electric scooters started popping up on the streets of San Antonio early Friday morning as part of an initiative by Los Angeles-based scooter-sharing company Bird to provide an alternative mode of transportation, mostly for those downtown.
The scooters, or “Birds” as the company calls them, are reserved through a mobile app that charges a base fee of $1 per ride with an additional 15 cents charged per minute of use. A map on the application shows the location of available scooters, which are typically clustered with others in a “Nest.” They may, however, be picked up and dropped off almost anywhere.
“As San Antonio rapidly grows and develops, it’s clear there’s an urgent need for additional transit options that are accessible, affordable, and reliable for all residents and local communities,” according to a statement released by Bird to the Rivard Report on Friday morning. “Birds are a great solution for short “last-mile” trips that are too long to walk, but too short to drive.”
According to Bird’s website, its scooters have a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour and riders must be at least 18 years old. Scooters are delivered before 7 a.m. and are picked up each evening starting around sunset.
Bird riders also are not permitted to park or ride scooters on the River Walk or at the Alamo, according to the mobile application.
Bird told the Rivard Report that the scooters are now available in downtown, Southtown, Government Hill, Dignowity Hill, and Harvard Place.
“Right now, more than one-third of cars trips in the U.S. are less than two miles long,” according to Bird. “Bird’s mission is to replace these trips — get people out of their cars, reduce traffic and congestion, and cut carbon emissions.”
While the idea might seem like an environmentally friendly mode of transportation for San Antonians, City officials aren’t quite on board — yet. The City had hoped to delay local operations until rules could be established for dockless transportation options.
Releases of similar vehicles around the country have surprised city officials, prompting some, such as those in Austin, to temporarily impound the scooters.
John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations (CCDO) department, told the Rivard Report on Thursday that while the City hopes to coordinate with companies to keep their scooters on the street, it has the right to remove obstructing vehicles left in places such as public right of ways like sidewalks, streets, or trails.
The department first considered regulating dockless bikes in January, before the scooters became a widespread and highly-funded phenomenon. Jacks said his department would likely pitch a more comprehensive pilot ordinance to the City Council’s Transportation Committee in August.
“We’ve asked them to hold off until we at least have a briefing or some kind of pilot program for Council committee,” Jacks told the Rivard Report earlier this month. “There’s currently not any specific ordinance that prohibits it. … We may do nothing, it just depends [on the circumstances].”
Other scooter companies have expressed interest in entering the San Antonio market. Blue Duck Scooters, LimeBike, and Spin all have communicated with City officials in recent months.
The company recently began advertising online to attract scooter chargers, who locate, collect, and recharge scooters for the company. A June 14 Facebook advertisement for Bird stated that “chargers” could earn between $5 and $20 for each charged scooter, and that “chargers” could collect as many scooters as they want.
Residents in other cities have complained that scooters “litter” public right of ways and are strewn about on sidewalks or in front of entrances to buildings, limiting some people’s access public space.
Jacks told the Rivard Report that the City is less concerned with dockless scooters than bikes because they take up less space and need to be routinely picked up off the street for recharges.
Bird’s mobile application stated that riders in San Antonio were required to wear a helmet while riding if 21 years or younger, to ride in bike lanes and off sidewalks, to park by bike racks when available, and to ride with a valid driver’s license.