Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The popular electric scooters and bikes that have pervaded the city in the past year would be restricted to street use only under a proposal set to be considered later this month.
San Antonio City Council will vote May 30 on an earlier proposed contraction in the number of companies and vehicles operating in the city. A vote to ban scooters from being ridden on the sidewalk is expected to come in October when the Council will consider contracting with select scooter-sharing vendors.
“A lot of folks have been vocal about [riding on the sidewalks],” said Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), who chairs the committee that heard the initial staff recommendation in April. Saldaña said he supports barring users of such dockless vehicles from riding on the sidewalk.
“We have work to do [to improve rider safety], but we shouldn’t be doing it at the expense of the pedestrian on the sidewalk,” he added.
The proposal also would limit the number of operators to three and vehicles to 5,000 citywide in an effort to improve safety and reduce sidewalk clutter. Operators would be selected through a competitive bid process.
“We feel that three vendors is a good balance,” said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations department, which oversees the dockless vehicle program, at a City Council meeting Wednesday. “It allows for competition in the market, but it also allows us to manage the [local fleet]. We think operating with three vendors we can work much more closely with them and get much better results.”
The 5,000-vehicle cap is about on par with the number of vehicles that have been deployed in March and April alone.
More than 16,000 vehicles currently are permitted among operators Bird, Lime, Razor, Blue Duck Scooters, Uber-owned Jump, Lyft, and Ford-owned Spin. The latter company just launched its local operations on Monday. Although the City earlier this year issued a moratorium on new permit applications for its six-month program for piloting scooter regulation, Spin had submitted its application before the cutoff.
Should the Council approve the recommendations later this month, the City would pare down the number of permitted vehicles by half while companies were bidding to operate.
While the smartphone app-enabled vehicles can travel from 15 to 20 miles per hour, the proposal Council will vote on calls for a 15-mph speed limit.
According to a staff presentation, 155 calls have been made to local emergency responders regarding scooter accidents. About half of those calls resulted in hospitalization.
Jacks said a curfew approved earlier this year has curbed the number of injuries that have resulted from late-night scooter use. The Council in February approved scooter operating hours from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Significant support exists for barring sidewalk riding, according to a survey of more than 4,600 San Antonio residents.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said the scooter debate has brought a strong impetus to invest in infrastructure improvements, including enhanced sidewalks and more bicycle lanes. Agreeing with Sandoval, Mayor Ron Nirenberg reflected on former City Manager Alex Briseño’s decades-old call to widen city sidewalks. He was right, Nirenberg said.
“We should have built our sidewalks wider,” he said. “We should take a lesson in that.”