City Council is poised to award three exclusive electric scooter contracts to Bird, Razor and Lime Thursday that will shed several companies currently operating on city streets and reduce the total number of scooters in San Antonio to 3,000. It will also lift the ban that has prevented scooters from operating between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. that has been in effect since February.
City staff said there was some concern expressed by companies and some on council that there were third-shift workers who needed the service.
The policy helps service industry employees said Joe Deshotel with Lime.
“Those in the service industry working late at night who might not have as many transit options,” he said.
While this ban may have limited access to hard-working third shifters, according to city data, it definitely was followed by fewer injuries.
The city announced in May that the number of 911 calls from scooter injuries post-ban dropped precipitously. There were 36% fewer accidents overall, and 27% fewer that resulted in ambulance rides. A trendline that continued to drop according to city staff.
So, why end the only city effort to make scooter riding more safe that had demonstrable results?
Jacks said it wasn’t a popular policy with either city council or the scooter companies.
“Is it fair to say, because of these scooter’s contract we can put this curfew on you but not on anybody else,” Jacks said referring to accidents that happen on bikes and cars at night.
District 7 councilwoman Ana Sandoval did not approve of the ban to begin.
“I think it should really be up to the companies, when they decide to operate,” said Sandoval in May.
She repeated her support for anytime riding at a November hearing.
Throwing big percentage drops injuries looks like a slam-dunk of a policy, but Jacks isn’t certain that the link between the ban and the following 911 calls is necessarily cause and effect.
“I don’t know that we had enough (data) to see what was really going on. Was it the fact that people were out there drinking and riding on them? Could it be that it’s maybe the street conditions in the area were causing this?” said Jacks.
Scooter companies have struggled to make a profit in the city with an overpopulation of vehicles — a profit they will begin sharing with San Antonio at a proposed $0.25 per ride when the new ordinance comes into effect in January. The city estimated it would make $367,000 from the profit-sharing, which will be invested toward enforcement and other scooter-related efforts.
The profit loss issue presumably compounded by a marked drop in rides. It’s almost half of what it was last year. The drop is so large that companies asked the city to reduce the number of scooters allowed under the new ordinance by an additional 40%.
Fewer riders actually impacts the injury reports as well, and now that riders are getting better on roads, and cars are used to them being out there, the nighttime ban may not be necessary. Also newer models of scooters across the industry have bigger wheels and better lights, said Jacks.
Whether that makes them safer is undetermined.
The city will observe the next six months of data without the ban and report back to council with the option of re-imposing.
The rider safety conversation has often taken a backseat to pedestrian complaints likely because the calls council people receive about scooters in the street, blocking sidewalks, bad driving, and any number of other issues.
“There’s a few folks who appreciate them and use them, but I can tell you for me the overwhelming majority by many orders of magnitude is… I’ve received nothing but negative comments about scooters,” said Manny Pelaez, District 8 councilman, at a November hearing.
The outcry resulted in the devices being banned from sidewalks in July. San Antonio is a city where despite increased investment in roads and sidewalks, infrastructure still struggles to accommodate different modes of transportation.
Low visibility and a small pothole was enough to send Tina Galvan to the emergency room; she is currently suing the city and the company Lime over the incident.
Wearing a helmet is — according to the CDC — the single best way to protect yourself on a scooter. Forty-eight percent of injuries on scooters are to the head, but only 1 out of the 190 people they studied in a report out earlier this year wore one.
The city ordinance will not require users to wear a helmet.
The city has budgeted $55,000 for rider education under the new ordinance and has required scooter companies to give away 1,500 helmets. It isn’t clear what impact these efforts have had.
“It’s hard to say looking back what was the impact of that. There’s not direct statistics or data,” said Jacks.
Under the new ordinance the city will also increase the amount of hours police will be actively enforcing the issue. Since the pilot program last October, city police have issued 87 tickets and 2,084 warnings to scooter riders.
“Knowing we have a lot less people out there riding them now. We have three companies that we can directly talk to and get data from. So, it’s a different playing field than it was, say a year ago,” Jacks said.
If the council passes eliminates the ban on Thursday there are two data points Jacks said he will be watching for: Is there a group of third shift workers who do need these devices, and is there a big upswing in injuries?