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San Antonio Adopts Pilot Program Regulating E-Scooters

Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio

San Antonio City Council voted unanimously to adopt a six-month pilot program for electric scooters Thursday morning after a brief discussion. The ordinance creates a permitting system, asses fees and sets up rules for scooter companies.

“Really, the purpose of this is to analyze and study over the next six months the activities, the riders, the ridership,” said John Jacks, director of center city development.

The ordinance allows users to ride on streets and sidewalks, but recommends using bike lanes when available and requires riders stay 2 feet from pedestrians. Riders will have to be older than 16 and are prohibited from being on trails and in parks.

There are more than 3,000 scooters on San Antonio streets according to the city, as the companies push the new transportation mode into the suburbs. The number of scooters has quadrupled since mid-August when it was under 750.

Despite the quick growth, the ordinance does not cap the number of devices companies can roll out.

“We don’t have enough data yet to determine, if there were to be a cap, what that number would be,” Jacks said. “Any number we would recommend would be very arbitrary.”

There would also not be a cap on the number of companies operating in the city. Lime, Bird, and Blue Duck scooters currently rent scooters in the area, and four others have expressed an interest, Jacks said.

“It’s my prediction that we will probably get to a point where we will have to cap the number of scooters, but I don’t know where that number is today,” said Rey Saldana, District 4 councilman.

Saldana and others on council praised the flexibility of the pilot program, while others saw the requirement of collecting  GPS data from the companies — showing where people are picking up, dropping off, and where scooters are ridden as a boon for city planners.

“I think what this has done is it has exposed some of our deficiencies in infrastructure,” said Roberto Treviño, the councilman for downtown District 1, who sees this is a way of addressing the knowledge gap.

The city’s transportation department will be using the data to inform infrastructure decisions, according to Jacks.

“I'm looking forward to using the information (collected data) much more for alternative transportation uses and how to design a more walkable, compact, sustainable city, “ said Shirley Gonzales on Twitter after voting to approve the program. The District 5 councilwoman is a champion for Vision Zero, a pedestrian safety movement.

The new “light touch” regulations come less than six months after the company Bird dropped off a flock of its scooters without consulting the city.

“Boy, what a bad way to enter a market,” said Manny Pelaez, who criticized the approach before ultimately voting in favor of the regulations.

Companies will have to pay an annual permit fee of $500 as well as $10 per scooter. They will be required to have a San Antonio-based fleet manager who can address issues like the parking of scooters, one of the biggest criticisms of the technology.

The city will give companies two hours to address reported parking issues and one hour if they are in restricted areas like parks and trails. The city is also enlisting the help of downtown nonprofit Centro San Antonio.

Centro ambassadors clean and collect trash from popular tourist areas. Now they will be tasked with “correcting” parking issues. The ambassadors will document how often they are fixing scooter issues. At the end of the six-month pilot, the city will use this data to determine how to adjust permitting and other fees.

The city already has a plan for after the pilot, Jacks said. It is considering dedicated parking areas for the e-scooters as well as requiring geofencing — which alerts riders when they are in areas they shouldn’t be in — are forbidden areas, and can be used to reduce speeds or even stop machines. Jacks said he plans to ask companies to include it in software updates.

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

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org