Scooter Riding on Sidewalk Banned, But Many Skeptical of Enforcement

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The Kress Building as Lime Scooters await.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

An ordinance City Council approved in May barring dockless electric scooters on San Antonio sidewalks took effect Monday.

Dockless electric scooters can’t be ridden on San Antonio sidewalks, per a new City ordinance that went into effect Monday, but many say they’re concerned about how well it will be enforced.

The new prohibition on sidewalk use comes a full year after rented e-scooters first arrived in San Antonio. It took months to arrive at the point where the City Council deemed riding on the sidewalk enough of a nuisance to move them off pedestrian rights-of-way and onto the street. But even though violating that law is a Class C misdemeanor that can carry as much as a $500 fine, some in the city are not sure that will be enough to deter violators.

For Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), the lone dissenting vote on a May 30 vote to enact a sidewalk riding prohibition, the idea of a few San Antonio police officers being able to prevent thousands of scooter riders from riding on the sidewalk is a head-scratcher.

“My concern is is that people are going to start overnight expecting that next week you’ll no longer start seeing people on sidewalks,” said Pelaez, who has emerged recently as one of the loudest opponents of scooters on City Council. “I think they’re going to be disappointed. When we write policy and when we enact new ordinances we have to question whether there’s enforceability behind it. I’m pretty certain all this has done is set us up to receive concerned phone calls every single day saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I saw a scooter on a sidewalk. Please do something about it.'”

Capt. Chris Benavides, with the San Antonio Police Department, said the sidewalk riding ban will begin with a 30-day grace period in which violators will be issued warnings about the new rule rather than citations. On Aug. 1, Benavides said, police officers will begin issuing citations in situations that call for them.

“The entire month of July will be used as an educational piece where we will issue written or verbal warnings for riding on the sidewalk,” he said.

“What we hope for is that the riders are mindful … that we’re able to work together to share that road and they’re aware of their surroundings.”

As of mid-June, Benavides said, the San Antonio Police Department has issued 80 citations and 438 warnings to scooter riders in connection with such violations as running red lights and riding tandem on a single scooter. A drop in the number of citations issued in recent months can be owed to the City’s decision to set a curfew for scooter riding, he said. After San Antonio City Council barred the scooters from being ridden between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., scooter-related injuries and traffic violations declined.

Coinciding with the sidewalk ban, the City will dedicate two more officer shifts per day dedicated to monitoring scooter violations, up from one three-hour daily shift. SAPD’s downtown bike patrol and park police officers are charged with enforcing the brunt of scooter traffic laws. Revenue from the fees charged to scooter companies funds the overtime pay for dedicated scooter enforcement.

Police officers on bike patrol ride through downtown near the Convention Center.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Police officers on bike patrol ride in tandem near the Henry B. González Convention Center.

The City began what it called a light-touch approach to regulating scooters in October and deliberately left sidewalk riding off its initial list of rules. Protected bike lanes are far from available on all the thoroughfares on which scooters are popularly ridden, and scooter riders would be able to use their best judgment as to whether to traverse sidewalks or the road, the City Council decided last fall.

Then came the flood of calls and 311 reports about reckless scooter riders. More than 100 people suffered injuries using scooters, were hit by them, or tripped over them, according to San Antonio emergency medical services. That’s just the number of incidents that were phoned into 911.

From September to June, San Antonio emergency personnel responded to 173 incidents involving scooter injuries, according to the latest figures from the San Antonio Fire Department. Some of those injured suffered lacerations, bone fractures, and concussions.

As a neighborhood association president and avid scooter rider, Cherise Rohr-Allegrini straddles the e-scooter issue. She sees both the value of the eco-friendly, two-wheeled vehicles and the danger they present.

Every time she walks from her Lavaca home in Southtown to downtown she has to duck and dodge scooterists motoring on the sidewalk. Though the vast majority of scooters users appear to be joyriders and tourists, she said, she knows plenty of conscientious riders. Rohr-Allegrini was happy to see the rule change, but she is hoping to see effective enforcement.

“That’s essential to keeping pedestrians safe on the sidewalk,” she said.

Willie Mae Clay, a Bexar County resident who uses a motorized scooter to get around because she has a disability, said jettisoning riders from the sidewalk won’t prevent the scooter clutter often in her path. She said violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act are frequent as scooters are parked haphazardly on the sidewalk or toppled over in the path of people using wheelchairs and other means of transport. Clay would rather see the City designate locations far from the street and sidewalk as parking zones.

“You don’t even have to be a person with a disability,” she said. “You can be an able-bodied person and trip over these things. These scooters present a hazard to the citizenry in general.”

Clay is a member of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, which testified in April in favor of a Texas proposal to regulate e-scooters statewide. Senate Bill 549 would have prohibited scooter riding on sidewalks, mandated a minimum age of 16 to ride, set speed limits of 15 mph for standing scooters and 20 mph for seated scooters, among other provisions. The bill foundered after missing a key deadline.

Also among the list of witnesses was OjO Electric, an Oxnard, California-based e-scooter dealer who began scooter-share services in January in such places as Austin; Dallas; and Hoboken, New Jersey. The company is one of 10 scooter-share operators that aim to win a contract with the City as it winnows down from six companies to three.

It may come as a surprise that OjO testified in favor of the legislation, but OjO’s scooters are built to be used on the road and in protected bike lanes, said Matt Tolan, the company’s vice president of sales and partnerships. Tolan claims OjO scooter tires are better suited for traveling over potholes and bumpy roads than the common stand-up scooters.

“I think for scooters to really flourish they have to be off the sidewalks,” Tolan said. “It’s just a recipe for accidents if you have pedestrians, bikes, and scooters on the sidewalks. That’s why we’re vehemently against scooter riding on the sidewalk. Scooters belong on a protected bike lane or the far-right-hand side of the street.”

An OjO electric scooter

Courtesy / OjO Electric

An OjO electric scooter

Locally based operator Blue Duck Scooters will apply stickers to their scooters informing riders of the new law as well as add educational information on the company’s scooter-share app. Elizabeth Lyons Houston, Blue Duck’s chief marketing officer, said the company supports the City’s decision to bar riding on the sidewalk.

“In an ideal world we would encourage riders to use bike lanes first and their best judgment second,” Lyons Houston said, acknowledging the hazard caused by pedestrians and scooters competing for the same space.

Lime, which operates thousands of scooters in San Antonio, has instructed riders to use bike lanes where available and avoid the sidewalk “from day one,” said Joe Deshotel, the company’s government relations manager for Texas.

“We’re going to do our part to make sure riders know what the rules are and help the City enforce them,” Deshotel said. Lime also will attach flyers to their scooters alerting riders to the new sidewalk prohibition, along with the advisory that scooters aren’t allowed on the River Walk or Alamo Plaza, he said.

The scooter scourge hit home for Pelaez when his friend and City photographer Fred Gonzales broke his arm after being hit by a scooter.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Pelaez said.

His right arm shattered, Gonzales could no longer work until he recovered from his injury.

Pelaez said if it were up to him, he would favor an outright ban on scooters. But there doesn’t appear to be much support among his colleagues for that.

“There is no scenario where there will be six votes for a ban on scooters,” he said. “If there is going to be no ban on scooters, then you have to figure out how to live with them.”

7 thoughts on “Scooter Riding on Sidewalk Banned, But Many Skeptical of Enforcement

  1. Why was this idea pushed in the first place?
    Downtown San Antonio has become an amusement park for young people. Older people such as myself risk getting run over by these scooter riding people.
    I’m with Pelaez, Ban the scooters, the bicycles, skateboarding. Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not thrill seekers!

  2. While I agree absolutely with getting scooters and bikes off the sidewalks, I wonder if scooters restricted to 15-20 MPH will be in danger of being run over in bike or vehicle traffic lanes. Bike riders in and around Terrell Hills often exceed 35 MPH. They barrel down bike lanes on Broadway, running red lights and stop signs. I see a conflict between bike and scooter riders coming. Just my observations.

  3. Our city council allowing these companies to just dump scooters on the streets of our beloved San Antonio just proved how stupid they are.I used to wonder if they were stupid,now I know for sure.

    • I don’t normally reply to completely misinformed posts like this online…

      I’m pretty sure no one with the City “allowed” anyone to do anything. I’m pretty sure the “scooter thing” started when Bird dropped several of their scooters off downtown, relatively unannounced and unbeknownst to anyone, including City officials. The City was stuck in a situation where they had to regulate scooter usage after-the-fact. I suspect that by the time scooters really started grabbing everyone’s attention, it was unrealistic and imprudent for the City to just up and ban them (effectively yank them off the streets), as they likely numbered in the thousands by that time.

      The scooter situation has nothing to do with stupidity.

      That said…I’m skeptical about how effective the new Ordinance will be. It’s one thing to enforce the rules and fine people who break them. It’s an entirely other thing to predict how the new rules will affect folks. Scooter riding on the streets will only be as safe as the least safe riders. I’ve seen enough unsafe riders downtown to know that moving forward, people will need to be extra vigilant when driving in places where scooters are common. Scooter riders are another layer of transportation being added to SA’s streets. I’m all for the safe usage of scooters on the streets of SA, but I do worry, because there are bound to those “few bad apples” that’ll inevitably cause problems.

  4. Just who is going to police the scooters? SAPD already has its hands full with other things.
    Our city should have thought hard about allowing scooters before they all “just” came in and parked.

  5. Bird should be banned from the RFP for future scooter companies in SA. They just came into town and dumped their scooters on sidewalks and created the mess we are now faced with. You should do some investigative reporting as to the political donations given by the scooter companies and their employees in the recent city election. I’ve always wondered why the C0uncil was so enamored with these companies. And they talk about transparency? Come on SAPD and do the job because the Council will not!

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