The Future Of Dockless Vehicles In San Antonio May Mean Fewer E-Scooters | Texas Public Radio

The Future Of Dockless Vehicles In San Antonio May Mean Fewer E-Scooters

Apr 4, 2019

Fewer e-scooters and e-scooter companies will be in San Antonio if a future city contract comes to pass, according to city officials and others with knowledge of the issue. San Antonio passed a six-month pilot  program for electric e-scooters in October that will be revisited on April 19. City staff will present a plan this month.

E-scooters have inundated downtown San Antonio. City officials pegged the number of deployed e-scooters at more than 6,500, despite permitting more than 16,000 e-scooters and bikes from seven companies.

Councilman Roberto Treviño — who represents the area — said he wants that number to come down to ensure public safety, ensuring clear sidewalks and passable roadways.

Councilman Roberto Treviño
Credit Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio

“What I can say is I am pretty sure there will be a significant reduction in the amount of e-scooters, but we want to do this thoughtfully,” he said.

Staff is scheduled to brief Council’s transportation committee on April 15, but Treviño said ultimately the city will put out a request for proposals, or RFP, that will reduce both the number of e-scooters and companies.

“I think it will land somewhere around 25 percent of what we are seeing now, maybe less. But I am going to let the experts do their work,” Treviño said.

“We will propose probably three operators (be awarded the contract),” said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development Department, which created the plan. He said narrowing the number of companies will make it easier for the city to manage them as well as people reporting e-scooter parking problems. Jacks couldn’t rule out council asking that only two or even one e-scooter company be allowed in the city.

“As long as it’s at least three, we can support that,” said David Heard, CEO of Tech Bloc, a local tech industry advocacy organization that has been involved in those talks. Heard said they could stifle innovation that often comes from smaller companies if they create a situation that drives out small players.

“We don’t really want an RFP at all,” he said. And any contract he hopes will account for the seasonal nature of ridership, allowing increased numbers at peak times of year.

In a departure from the current permitting process, the RFP also may include profit sharing or language to ensure San Antonio gets some amount of each ride. Currently, the companies pay a company permit fee and a per e-scooter fee.

Treviño pointed to the current river barge contract as an example as a quasi-model. He said the money could go towards parking enforcement and could go towards improving infrastructure like sidewalks and adding bike lanes.

“These things cost taxpayers dollars," Treviño said. “If there is a mechanism that can work on this RFP to help generate some of those dollars to offset that cost, I think that would be a good thing.”

The city has hired four temporary workers to correct and report the parking of e-scooters since February, when council voted to increase regulations on dockless vehicles. Those positions are currently paid out of the more than $100,000 that were paid in fees from the companies.

Jacks said the proposed RFP could include profit sharing language, but it wasn’t clear what that would look like yet.

“I want to make sure we aren’t using tax dollars to subsidize this in any way," Jacks said. “The priority is a cost recovery.”

Jacks listens to community concerns at a 2018 meeting on e-scooters.
Credit Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio

The department has focused on correcting e-scooters rather than impounding them, which Jacks said he thinks hasn’t increased since the initial 70 infractions.

“I’ve seen a really prompt response when I report a violation,” Jacks said, referring to the e-scooter companies responding to complaints. “I think they’re doing a pretty good job.”

It is unlikely that any action will be taken before the May 4 municipal elections, and the 45-day response window for the RFP along with council closure during the month of July means it will likely be August before any contracts are finalized, but that doesn’t mean the city won’t see a reduction in scooter permit numbers in the interim.

The city will ask for a permitting change in mid-May. As the scooter companies’ six-month contracts begin to expire, the city intends to replace them with ones that limit companies to 1,000 scooters.

This will mean Lime (4,000), Bird (4,500), Jump (2,000) and Lyft (2,000) will see a reduction, while there will be no change in number for those below 1,000. The total number of scooter permits would be reduced from 16,100 to 5,600.

The city is currently still taking public input on a survey, which won’t conclude until April 17. It is unclear if any vote will take place before the municipal elections.

Paul Flahive can be reached via email at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.