The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Riding E-Scooters on San Antonio Streets

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
A young man rides a Bird scooter on a sidewalk down East Houston Street.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A young man rides a Bird scooter on a sidewalk down East Houston Street.

San Antonio's sharing economy just took a zippy step forward with the arrival of hundreds more dockless electric scooters on downtown streets, available to just about anyone with a smartphone and the nerve to get on board.

I spent a couple of hours Friday and Saturday riding scooters for the first time, eager to share my experience, particularly with baby boomers and older readers who might wonder about their own ability to safely use this low-impact mode of urban transit suddenly appearing in cities all over the world.

If you can ride a bike, you can ride a scooter. It's the other guy in the motorized vehicle you need to watch out for on city streets. Or, if you happen to be operating a scooter recklessly, as many do, it's the rest of us who have to watch out for you.

Scooters might or might not be here for good. Their arrival is likely to be greeted with as much resistance as welcome.

I rode a Bird scooter from our family home near H-E-B headquarters on East Arsenal Street to the Rivard Report offices on East Houston Street, a quick 1.1-mile jaunt. Encouraged by my safe arrival, I took a second Bird back into Southtown for 23 minutes, stopping and starting at several points.

The scooters are ideal for short hops, but I decided to set out on a longer ride that clocked in at 41 minutes, north on Main Avenue past San Antonio College, into Monte Vista, Alta Vista, Beacon Hill, Tobin Hill, and over to the Pearl. I returned down Broadway back to East Houston Street just in time to meet with a group of UTSA students at the Geekdom Event Centre.

Rivard Report Editor & Publisher Robert Rivard stops at a traffic light while riding a Lime-S electric scooter down Main Street.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Rivard Report Director Robert Rivard stops at a traffic light while riding a Lime-S electric scooter down Main Street.

Friday happened to be the same day that San Mateo, California-based Lime opened for business in San Antonio with 200 of its distinctive green and white scooters now visible on city sidewalks. Lime joins Los Angeles-based Bird, which launched here in late June with a fleet of several hundred scooters.

Other competitors plan on jumping into the market. The Rivard Report published an article in April about locally-owned startup Blue Duck Scooters, which hopes to launch here with a fleet of 1,000 vehicles, according to co-founder and President Eric Bell. No date for the start of operations has been released yet.

City officials returning from the traditional summer break this week will be tasked with fashioning regulations to manage scooter share while avoiding the political backlash that greeted the administration of former Mayor Ivy Taylor when rideshare companies Uber and Lyft were temporarily banned from lightly regulated operations in San Antonio.

If my experience Friday was typical, regulation is going to be essential to avoiding collisions between scooter users and motorized vehicles on city streets as well as with pedestrians on sidewalks and crosswalks.

The challenges that cyclists face in traffic are the same for scooterists. I experienced one SUV driver failing to yield the right of way to me, and two other SUV drivers who accelerated purposely to turn in front of me, all forcing me to brake rapidly and unsafely.

Many people will quickly turn anti-scooter in San Antonio unless users abide by the rules which, frankly, the scooter companies are helpless to enforce. City officials will likely come under pressure to enforce those rules, yet local authorities already turn a blind eye to the commercial use of Segway two-wheelers on downtown sidewalks and to the reckless cycling on downtown streets and sidewalks of the ubiquitous Jimmy John's fast-food delivery servers.

It would seem unfair to single out scooter users while giving a pass to others.

I counted 84 scooter users in motion during the 70 minutes I was riding. Not a single rider except yours truly was wearing a bike helmet. Bird says you have to be 18 years old and have a valid driver's license. I saw three teen girls, barefoot and without helmets, on scooters in front of the Alamo. How they got around the minimum age and driver's license requirements, I cannot say.

All but eight of the 84 scooters I counted Friday were in use on sidewalks rather than city streets. That is undoubtedly going to rile opponents. A few days ago I was nearly struck while walking in front of the Majestic Theatre by two scooter riders traveling at full speed on the East Houston Street sidewalk, oblivious to pedestrians.

Cyclists know there are occasions where a sidewalk is the only safe refuge from congested traffic, speeding vehicles, illegally parked vehicles, or other such circumstances. But sidewalk use is meant to be the exception rather than the rule, and so it should be for scooter users, too.

A group of people riding scooters on the sidewalk wait to cross the street.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A group of people riding scooters on the sidewalk wait to cross the street.

I was returning downtown, moving west on Travis Street, when three scooter riders ran the red light at top speed traveling south on Jefferson Street, narrowly avoiding a mid-intersection collision.

The Bird scooters do not have a speedometer; the top speed I reached was probably below the stated 15 mph maximum speed. The first Bird scooter I rode was beat up and performed poorly on Main Plaza and the brick surface of East Houston Street.

The second Bird scooter performed better, yet could barely make it up the hill on North Main Avenue at San Antonio Academy. Some leg work was required there. After a second hill, I quickly turned east in search of flatter ground.

Lime-S electric scooters are lined up next to City Hall.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Lime-S electric scooters are lined up next to City Hall.

Both Lime scooters I rode were in much better condition, and featured a speedometer that registered my top speed at 19.8 mph.

Scooters are an inexpensive, easy-to-operate, low-impact transit option that can help reduce the number of motorized vehicles operating in the urban core, a welcome addition to the overheated downtown landscape. Few of those streets, however, make room for cyclists or scooter riders, and that means navigating traffic.

Locals and visitors are embracing the scooters with enthusiasm, but they are not necessarily operating them legally or safely. It will only take a few incidents of scooters colliding with pedestrians on sidewalks before heavy regulation will result. Only responsible use can avert that outcome.

43 thoughts on “The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Riding E-Scooters on San Antonio Streets

    • San Antonio is not ready for scooters with so much construction going on & downtown growing…the City’s travel & SAFETY LAWS are not prepared nor do they have any idea as to the users ability to operate the scooters. Scooter riders vary in age & some are obviously not coordinated to operate them. Countless times I have observed parents riding @ full speed w/children on the scooters as well..UNSAFE..especially when you have an occupant on with you & not knowing their reaction when confronted with a near miss.! The majority of users are also NOT paying attention as they are always wearing EAR BUDS & NOT PAYING attention..!
      Blue Star area is BAD for that being tourist & visitors have no regard to others who live in the area as they DON’T yield @ stop signs or pedestrian cross walks.! They became areal Hazard & a tremendous eye sore to the neighbor hood. They are continuously left on corner streets, crosswalks even thrown in the middle of the street. We already have PLENTY of bicyclist on our public streets…who in turn also take their use of bikes on City streets for granted. We don’t need other hazardous Scooter riders out on the City streets who are INCONSIDERATE TO OTHERS just for the pleasure & COST @ reliving your child hood.

  1. I think it’s great. San Antonio was close to spending a billion dollars to connect Southtown, downtown, and Pearl with a streetcar, which would have had a far greater impact on both car and pedestrian traffic, with with arguably worse outcome (most people would still have to walk to/from the stops from their real starting place to their final destination, etc)

    I think it’s likely that after this initial boom, there will be a natural reduction, as most people won’t bother installing the apps for a 3rd or 4th scooter company if they already have 1-2 that are good enough and close by enough.

    City allows VIA to install bus stops (covered benches) in the middle of city sidewalks, so if it turns out there is a real issue, they could do designated scooter stops every block. Like the cart holders at a grocery store, not everyone will use them, but a majority of people would, if they were easy and convenient enough, and Downtown Amigos could move the few stray scooters into a better place without too much trouble.

    Lots of people complain about parking in downtown, but parking studies have shown that there isn’t a lack of parking spaces, just a lack of parking spaces in the hugest demand areas. Instead of $15 parking next to the Riverwalk, people have the option of $3 parking 4-5 blocks away, and a $2 scooter ride, and still arrive at your destination without breaking a sweat.

    Let’s not over regulate this. People will figure out how to use them. The subpar operators will disappear on their own, and we will be left with an additional transportation option with little public cost.

    • Look up the definition of “easement.” That’s where VIA is allowed to install bus stops. The same goes for CPS and utility poles. VIA bus stops are part of infrastructure as are utility poles. It’s not a fair comparison.

      Letting the market decide doesn’t work for auto, motorcycle and bicycle safety. Anything on powered, human or otherwise, wheels is regultated and/or licensed.

  2. What is there to regulate? The laws are there and really need to start being enforced to get the unsafe riders under control.

  3. Agree with Jimtx. Laws governing operation of scooters bicycles and other alternative methods of travel already exist. Law enforcement needs to just enforce these laws. Lawsuit happy lawyers and individuals that are plain ignorant need to stop making excuses for non compliance.

  4. They still only benefit those physically able to use one, just like the bicycles. The future of downtown SA transportation needs to have options for all people. Where are the options for the elderly, handicapped and physically challenged?
    I am not against the scooters but they need to not block the sidewalks. ADA compliance needs to be considered. Who is going to present a viable option for downtown mobility for everyone who cannot walk 2 miles, ride a bike or a scooter?

    • Um, move the scooter off the sidewalk and stop expecting other people to do things for you. It’s called a community.

    • They can use Uber, Lyft, Taxi, a loved one, or can drive themselves to their destination. This device is not meant meant for the elderly or disabled.

  5. Its not that it can’t be fabulous…its that some who dont think laws apply to them ruin it for the rest of us…happens over and over. As a wheelchair user I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for ALL kinds of blockages, skateboarders, bicyclists,impatient people getting in front of me and then stopping to look at thier phones , patio tables and chairs in front of businesses, no ice/snow removal, people using the ATM for a moment in the handicapped parking space, grocery carts left in the those same spaces…etc. Human selfishness cant be regulated. Sigh….

  6. Ultimately, until we care enough to enforce the rules for the most dangerous road users—drivers—I see no valid reason to get so up in arms about scooters. Even SAPD officers on bikes use the sidewalks, which is illegal. So enough with the outrage.

  7. I have toured downtown aroun mid-day several times recently by foot and by car and have seen the issues with scooters speeding down sidewalks, zigzagging around pedestrians but what I have not seen are any S. A. P. D. Foot Patrol officers. Where are they? Does anyone know how many are or should be working the downtown section?

  8. I rode one myself the other day. It also brought to attention the sad shape of many area sidewalks and streets. Rough and potholed.

  9. Great commentary. Personally I believe that users who ride on sidewalks are actually afraid to ride on the streets proper because of cars and the speeds cars travel downtown. What we are seeing in real time is the next wave of transportation being deployed without our roads catching up to accommodate it.

    I don’t want a regulation because I don’t see how it will address the safety issue. Around downtown sidewalks are way to narrow, cars drive way to fast, and bike lanes are no where to be found. You solve that safety issue then you will see safer walking for pedestrians and for scooter riders.

    I know about the meeting this coming Tuesday and will bring my comments.

    I also found an article linked below that shows was cities can do to address pedestrian safety downtown. You see the points they made really talk about the layout of streets and the speed of vehicles traveling in urban areas. Scooters are technically motorized and I would support a speed cap of 16mph.

    https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/03/05/americas-pedestrian-safety-crisis-isnt-getting-any-better/

    • As San Antonio moves forward into what downtown needs to be, these are the discussions that need to happen. It cannot be perfect for everyone, it can be better for everyone.
      You bring up very important issues. I hope if the streets, sidewalks and passages are addressed they allow for the possibility of electric carts as an option in the future.

  10. I live downtown and walk everywhere. I’ve almost been run over by scooter riders on the sidewalks, including a young woman who yelled “beep-beep” at me as she sped by, clearly out of control. I was nearly hit one night by a bicyclist without a light who ran a red light as I was crossing (with the walk sign). I’ve dodged the delivery bicycles as they zoom in front of me. I’m tired of having to step aside for caravans of Segway-mounted tourists.
    I’m all for multiple transportation options, but I’ve even more worried about pedestrian safety since the scooters were unleashed on downtown. Who is liable if the rider of a scooter injures someone? Unless there is a regulation making it illegal to ride on the sidewalk, those of us who walk are taking the risk with no recourse.

  11. Just up the road in Austin the scooter craze in my opinion is making Austin roads and sidewalks more dangerous. I don’t see their popularity going away or dying down anytime soon in Austin or San Antonio for that matter as someone suggested might happen in San Antonio. While Austin has made a concerted effort to increase bike lanes that does not mean scooter riders ride exclusively on streets. I’d hate to think that severe accidents or fatalities are inevitable, but from the carelessness I have seen so far, they are bound to happen.

    • …and will. Just a matter of another ignorant rider on they’re phone or with ear BUDS on drowning out the safety & their awareness..!

  12. A good argument for creating and enforcing bike lanes. And for ticketing SUVs that cut off bikes, scooter riders, and each other. San Antonio has some of the most aggressive drivers I’ve ever seen; we need to change their behavior, too.

  13. As a downtown resident who works up at 1604:
    1. Put some g-damn loud working bells on the scooters! They are so quiet cars and pedestrians cannot hear them. I’ve almost driven over an idiot family weaving through cars on Cersar Chavez and I’ve almost been hit because I was an idiot and didn’t scream “on the left”
    2. Like others have said, the city needs to enforce existing laws.
    3. If the city can’t/ won’t enforce, we as a community need to educate riders…I think SARA(?) did a good job of this when Mission Reach opened…educate folks on the shared paths and modes of downtown transportation

  14. Hoping to try it out this week too! I liked that you took several and made a good jaunt around town! I think they are great, and the nit picky stuff can all be worked out, as residents become used to them and learn how to commute properly, and the company can regulate, inform and direct its users. Its a positive sight to see, in my opinion. I ride the bus often, and when i see them I think “Hey SA is showing signs of being a real “Metropolitan” city!” What?! 😀 As a cyclist, I also would NOT ride these on sidewalks. I am still upset that Broadway lacks bike friendly upgrades and improvement. There is a fear issue here, for those not used to commuting alongside vehicular traffic. People still unaware of bike laws and city ordinances. Tourist are going to Tourate, just like they do on Bcycles, all wonky in the wrong direction on the sidewalk and wobbly! I saw 2 guys balancing on one scooter, the rear rider was holding 3 large pizza boxes, and they were hauling butt on the sidewalk near Market and Navarro. I smiled but said… they really shouldnt be doing that for safety reasons!

  15. I agree that the space accommodations are inadequate. As mentioned above, dangerous for sidewalks, and the potholes and traffic are horrible for the scooters. I see that bike lanes are needed, but where is that revenue going to come from beyond regulating and registering bicycles and scooters.

  16. Good coverage (!) but I wish there would have been or will be an attempt to look at how the e-scooters are integrating with VIA or not–for example, can you rent an e-scooter at Centro Plaza? At Five Points Transit Hub? Related to mass transit access and the desire to see more backpack-wearers downtown, can a university student use these to reach Megabus from downtown UTSA?

    Likewise, with the allowing of LIME e-scooters in greater downtown finally (as of Friday), are there now LIME dockless bikes available throughout greater downtown? West of Market Square? Noting that the more affordable LIME bikes (roughly a buck for 30 minutes) have been “trapped” on the OLLU campus since April — and that other cities have been able to broker cash access to LIME bikes and funds for pedestrian improvements as part of regulating these vehicles?

    Meanwhile, the status quo of SWell Cycle (formerly B-Cycle) has refused to expand west or to integrate with VIA services. They would rather operate near breweries (as they now advertise, “beer and bikes”) than at transit facilities, sections of greater downtown with high population densities or at most college campuses. Will the City be able to leverage the gifts of competition and innovation to achieve better mobility options for residents and visitors more broadly?

    I’m hopeful that new dockless “small vehicle” operators in town and more residents will note how these vehicles and services can help enhance VIA ridership and urban life–eliminating some transfers, closing some of the service gaps, addressing some of the poor pedestrian conditions and bridging some of the deliberate segregation in San Antonio.

    To note, Arsenal becomes El Paso Street if you head west, and I can only imagine the joy of riding an e-scooter underneath the 1-10, along the roughly mile of vacant surface parking that is mainly leased by UTSA and leads to the campus, Market Square and Centro Plaza. I prefer bikes, but e-scooters definitely have a place in hot and hilly San Antonio. New services present an opportunity for the City to demonstrate greater tolerance and to put more resources towards addressing the concerns of poor pedestrian conditions and declining air quality. Locally, these issues relate to fossil fuel use in transportation and energy production (still no City commitment to 100% renewable energy, but how about by the e-scooter companies? SWell Cycle?) and to public spending on car storage and lane widening instead of pedestrian connectivity and amenity improvements.

  17. Almost hit on Commerce Street by what appeared to be a grandmother and three grandchildren zipping along at a rapid rate of speed. Oldest of the kids was maybe 13, and the other two maybe 11 and 9. I thought they had to be 18. They are making what possibly could be a good thing into a very, very dangerous thing. How soon before the first fatality?

  18. I’ve been nearly hit a handful of times since the scooters made their debut: twice by teenagers. I’ve seen many riders who were clearly not 18 years old riding these. Last week, I was nearly hit by a young man in his early 20’s making a turn from Houston Street onto St. Mary’s (on the sidewalk) at full speed. And more often than not, scooters are left right in the middle of the sidewalk blocking the way for people in wheelchairs and walkers (I move them out of the way). I jog after work (along the River Walk from King William into downtown) and I see something every day that turns me against the use of scooters. I know the people, not the scooters, are the problem, but if their use is not regulated and rules aren’t enforced, then I see the problem growing before it gets better.

  19. According to the City Of San Antonio’s TCI Dept., these are considered motorized vehicles and are not allowed on the Mission Reach Trail or any of the city’s Greenway Trails. I encountered a young boy riding a Bird Scooter along the Mission Reach Trail a few days ago. He was weaving in a zig-zag pattern all along the trail while oncoming cyclists were headed toward him. They yelled out to him to stay on his right, but he refused. A couple of the cyclists chased him down on their bicycles. They made him get off the trail at Concepcion Park.
    Three guys were riding scooters through the Big Tex Complex a few days ago, jumping the speed bumps and weaving in and out of people trying to park their cars. Several people honked their horns at them, but were given the middle finger sign. Someone is seriously going to get hurt on these scooters if riding regulations are not implemented and enforced. I am going to start taking videos of reckless behavior on the scooter and emailing it directly to City Hall.

  20. I see bicyclist doing 20mph on the green way all the time…they don’t even say anything and they think they own the greenways. Many people know what I am talking about here. So if people complain about a few scooter rides not being considerate about others on the trail then bicycle need to be BAN too! We have a right to ride on the greenways just as much as bicyclist, I ring my bell when going around corners and when I see others I slow down. Maybe a few don’t but that’s not right to BAN scooters on the greenways!

  21. My husband and I just spent the last 5 days in downtown San Antonio. A trip that we have done many times and used to really enjoy. After this trip, we will not be back because of the scooters. It was absolutely ridiculous.

    We hide to walk in the street many times to avoid being ran over by scooters on the sidewalks. Ones not being ridden were just set wherever, with absolutely no care of it blocking walk ways. Another person commented about “move it yourself, it’s a community.” Great, let me stop and move a dozen scooters out of the way every block. Seeing children, well under ten on these things was very disturbing. We also feel, like since this is a motorized mode of transportation, scooters should not be allowed to run red lights or cut off pedestrians. We actually saw one man on a scooter run into another man walking. Somebody will eventually be critically injured, if they have not already.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *