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Technology & Entrepreneurship

San Antonio Light On E-Scooter Regs While Gathering Data: 'We Have No Ability To Predict The Future'

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

San Antonio will roll out a six-month pilot program for electric scooters if City Council approves the measure next month.

Council largely voiced support for the described regulations and revisiting them in six months.

Regulations remained light, with the city backing away from a ban on the use of electric scooters on sidewalk, unless a bike lane is present.

“As local governments and jurisdictions we have no ability to predict the future," saidRey Saldaña, who said, three months ago, the city thought the next big thing would be dockless bicycles.

In three weeks, the city estimates the number of popular transportation method has more than doubled from around 750 to to more than 2,000.

“I think there should be a cap,” Councilman Greg Brockhouse said, “but it should be significant because we’re a big city.”

Credit Paul Flahive / Texas Public Radio
Councilman Greg Brockhouse is concerned by the explosive growth of scooters in San Antonio

City staff will rely on usage data from e-scooter companies to determine how many should be in the city, which is one reason they said they wanted the the six month pilot.

“We only have two operators in the market right now,” said Lori Houston, assistant city manager. “We have five more operators waiting, and if they each brought in 300 to 400 scooters — that’s an additional 2,000.”

The city held its first hearing for public comment Wednesday night. Of the 26 citizens signed up, opinions for and against scooters were evenly split.

“Scooters are motorized vehicles. They should be regulated and used as motorized vehicles,” said S.T. Shimi, who lives in the Southtown neighborhood and disagreed with allowing scooters on sidewalks. “I think it is a terrible idea. I’m constantly being bum-rushed by large dudes riding these scooters at fast speeds.”

Shimi was one of a handful speaking against the scooters, citing pedestrian safety as their chief concern.

According to city staff, 20 accidents have been reported to San Antonio Police. A fire department spokesman confirmed emergency responders have only now started tracking accidents for scooters.

A few others, including Tech Bloc board member and attorney Debra Innocenti Placette, praised the regulatory approach, saying San Antonio has to compete for young creative workers.

Credit Paul Flahive / Texas Public Radio
Tech Bloc's David Heard speaks with Councilman Clayton Perry after regulations presentation.

“We have to invest in key areas including urban core development, transportation, and most importantly a culture that is supportive of  innovation,” she said. “Dockless transportation systems are important to all these areas.”

Scooters will continue to be banned from the Riverwalk, park trails, creek ways, parks and plazas. They will be allowed to be parked on sidewalks — which has remained a frequent citizen complaint — as long as they leave three feet passable for pedestrians, and can’t block sidewalk ramps, bus stops or benches or be within 8 inches of a building’s entrance.

If the scooter is parked in violation, companies will have two hours to move the scooter. The city will require companies maintain a local employee for these complaints, but will also train parking enforcement as well as ambassadors for downtown nonprofit Centro to adjust parking for the companies. The city also plans on assessing a $50 fine per impounded scooters.

Other fees included a $10 per scooter fee and a permit application fee of $500. Both would need to be renewed in six months.

Credit City of San Antonio CCDO Presentation

Bird scooters estimates that 50,000 unique riders have used them since that company pioneered the tech in San Antonio less than 90 days ago.

Council will vote on the regulations Oct. 11.

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