Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Blue Duck Scooters was slated to release its electric scooters near The University of Texas at San Antonio main campus on Tuesday, President Eric Bell confirmed.
Bell said the San Antonio-headquartered company will release approximately 75 of its app-enabled, dockless e-scooters Tuesday – about 45 in the early morning and 30 after 11 a.m.
After deploying about 50 e-scooters each near the Texas State University (San Marcos) and Southwestern University (Georgetown) campuses on Friday and Monday, respectively, Blue Duck is approaching 500 scooters in its total fleet with other Texas college campuses in its sights.
Texas State University impounded some of the scooters found on campus, and Bell said Southwestern University officials collected one Blue Duck scooter but promptly returned it to the company.
Blue Duck began testing its scooters in April but encountered a few hiccups before Southern California-based Bird parked hundreds of its own e-scooters in downtown San Antonio. Bird’s fleet of 1,700 and its Bay Area-headquartered competitor in the San Antonio market LimeBike, which has about 300 locally operating scooters, have thus far dwarfed Blue Duck’s presence in the city.
But Bell believes its recent deployments have put the startup on an upward trajectory.
“We feel like in a matter of days we’ve gone from being a bit of an underdog to being an up-and-coming company in, we think, the hottest space in America right now,” he said. “[Launching in San Marcos and Georgetown] validated a lot of our assumptions and validated the money from investors who spent to allow us to … begin to change the framework for how people move around in the South.”
As with Texas State and Southwestern, Blue Duck is seeking “forgiveness not permission” to operate in and around UTSA’s main campus, Bell said.
Steve Herrera, director of transportation services at Texas State, said the university has no objection to the idea of scooters but wants to see a formal proposal drawn up by scooter companies. He said he understands scooters often show up unannounced on city streets.
“That may be the case in other communities, but if we’re bringing this type of transportation to our community, we want to make sure it’s well-coordinated and communicated with the city,” Herrera said.
Bell estimated Texas State impounded two dozen scooters. There are still dozens more circulating San Marcos, he said, and the company is working with the city on crafting “common sense” regulations around scooter use.
“We did not deploy a single scooter onto campus directly, but plenty of students rode them onto campus,” Bell said.
Before launching the scooters in San Marcos, Bell told the Rivard Report he did not feel it was “productive” to consult with city officials beforehand, although Blue Duck did inform the City of San Antonio of its launch earlier this year.
“What we’re focused on is providing transportation solutions, not trying to make everybody at [every level of] the regulatory process happy, because it’s an impossible thing to do,” Bell said. “But I think what you have seen manifest itself in San Antonio is for the most part, people want the scooters and they want to find a way for them to work and operate within their given domain. Having them there operating is catalytic toward that conversation.”
Neither Bird nor LimeBike has entered the San Marcos market. In fact, there were no e-scooter companies operating in the city as of Thursday night, said Kristy Stark, a spokeswoman for the City of San Marcos.
Some scooters are still available in San Marcos and near the Texas State campus, according to Blue Duck. In a press release issued after Texas State moved to impound the scooters, Bell urged Texas State students to fight for keeping scooters available.
“Students looking to arrive to class and extracurricular activities in a quicker manner or simply travel around their favorite places by school are encouraged to take action and petition to allow Blue Duck Scooters to remain at Texas State,” Bell stated. “Blue Duck Scooters benefit students and commuters by offering a fast, fun and affordable transit option to ditch their car.”
Blue Duck charges a $1 base fee to ride the smartphone app-enabled vehicles and then 15 cents for every minute the scooter is in use. Bell said being the first in the market gives the company a better shot at “winning.”
“We were disappointed that we weren’t able to be first in San Antonio given our development timeline,” Bell said. “We’re still fully committed to having a presence in San Antonio perpetually going forward. But for us, we wanted to take San Marcos as a case study and [see] what happens when you get to a target market and you’re the only provider in town.”
Fast-growing San Marcos has a population of about 45,000, and Texas State had an enrollment of more than 38,000 students in Fall 2017.
Unlike most e-scooter companies, Blue Duck’s logistics model does not revolve around hiring gig workers to collect the scooters at night, charge them at their homes, and then deploy them again before sunrise. The company, which is headquartered at the Pearl, has a warehouse on Avenue B in downtown San Antonio, where new scooter shipments are received, outfitted with Blue Duck’s custom equipment, and tagged with the company’s branding. That warehouse is also where Blue Duck employees return scooters every night and charge them.
Bell said Blue Duck’s current fleet numbers more than 100 vehicles, and the company is receiving 50 to 60 new e-scooters every week.
“San Marcos is particularly interesting because we can continue to service it, UTSA, and San Antonio from our home base here, so it doesn’t require us to establish a new beachhead somewhere else,” Bell said.
Blue Duck raised $2 million in a seed funding round earlier this month. Bell said the investors were mostly family and friends, but the company is talking to venture capital firms as it eyes a $15 million Series A fund.
An injection of capital would help the company boost its total fleet (in all markets) to as many as 50,000 e-scooters by the end of the year, Bell said. That’s important if Blue Duck is to execute its strategy of finding its niche in college towns. San Marcos is its first launch market outside of San Antonio, and Bell said that Texas State is the first of many college campuses the company plans to target.
With Blue Duck’s fleet, Bird’s 1,700 scooters, and LimeBike’s roughly 300 vehicles, there are more than 2,000 e-scooters available in San Antonio. But City officials have said that number could double if five additional companies that have expressed interest in bringing their vehicles to the city. San Antonio City Council is expected to vote on a temporary regulatory framework for dockless vehicles on Oct. 11.
This story was originally published on Sept. 21.