Riding electric scooters will be banned from sidewalks in San Antonio beginning Monday.
After more than a year, seven companies and the issuance of 14,100 permits, the sometime-micro-mobility savior, sometime-pedestrian nuisance is out in the street, literally.
But can the city enforce the ban?
Police issued 361 warnings and citations to scooter riders in San Antonio between mid-October 2018 — when the city passed its ordinance — and mid-May, according to a city presentation.
That’s around 51 incidents a month, or less than two a day. This is despite an average monthly ridership well in excess of 200,000 rides in the same period, along with high numbers of complaints about bad scooter behavior on social media.
From riding on the Riverwalk to riding with another person, to underage riding, on an average day one would be hard pressed to see less than two violations in downtown San Antonio.
If it seems low, consider that until Sunday only one police officer—in a single 3-hour shift each day—was tasked specifically with enforcing San Antonio’s dockless vehicle ordinance.
“That is correct — at this time there is one officer dedicated to scooter enforcement,” said an SAPD spokesman.
He added all officers are tasked with enforcing scooter-related infractions, and an examination of violation and crash reports filed by SAPD confirmed that a variety of officers responded.
SAPD increased the number of officers specifically assigned to scooter traffic on Sunday.
For more than six months one SAPD officer was responsible for all the city’s scooters. That’s 5,600 scooters spread mostly across downtown.
“I actually feel terrible for that one officer tasked with this impossible expectation,” said Manny Pelaez, District 8 councilman.
Pelaez said he was surprised to learn it was just one person. The councilman said he was told they would not be adding additional officers downtown to enforce the sidewalk ban. Instead, SAPD authorized three, 3-hour overtime shifts a day through July.
“I don’t think that is enough,” Pelaez said. “I think what we have done is set ourselves up for at the very least failure and at the very worst, failure and ridicule.”
San Antonio is far from alone in its struggle to enforce laws on the new technology. In Indianapolis, police admitted the five officers they use are insufficient to deal with that city’s 6,000 scooters. Austin passed ticketable offenses in May, while San Diego has passed no laws on the thousands of devices taking up city space. Chicago launched a scooter pilot in June and within two weeks complaints about prohibited sidewalk riding and bad behavior spiked.
Despite the numerous efforts from governments and scooter companies to beef up education programs, one in four riders across the country are unsure of laws around riding scooters, according to Consumer Reports.
The San Antonio city council voted to ban sidewalk riding May 30 as part of a vote to modify its pilot program. It also reduced scooter permit numbers and extended company permits until a new structure can be formed this fall.
Three companies will be chosen for a contract for exclusive rights to operate in San Antonio. As many as 10 have expressed interest.
Some have suggested the contract could be the place to encourage scooter companies to innovate safer riding. With scooters now pushed to the streets there are serious questions about future injuries. The city acknowledged through its Vision Zero program that streets need to be safer for pedestrians. Recent cyclist deaths galvanized that community to call for better streets as well.
A January UCLA study showed only 4% of riders wore helmets.
In San Antonio, the competitive contract will include some measure of profit sharing and increased fees, starting with a $25,000 per company permit fee followed by a $100 per scooter fee. Only 5,000 dockless vehicle permits are currently allowed, or about 1,666 permits per company. The fees will be used to pay for new scooter corrals, parking infrastructure and enforcement, as well as additional SAPD overtime shifts.
Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.