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San Antonio Disabled Community Wants More Done On Scooters

Scooters parked on a sidewalk in San Antonio.
Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio

A city committee discussed on Monday the ways the city could do more to protect people with disabilities from the city’s 16,000 permitted electric scooters and dockless bicycles.

The Disability Access Advisory Committee was created by city council and  is made up primarily of disability rights advocates and individuals with disabilities. It wrote a list of concerns and possible fixes in a draft memo as the city’s dockless vehicle pilot program enters its final month.

The draft memo highlighted six concerns dealing with access to scooters, as well as issues people with disabilities have dealing with them as impediments. It noted people who are blind are likely to trip over scooters in the right of way, and the wheelchair-bound are unable to get around scooters that are poorly parked.

City staff declined to comment since the memo is a draft and could change.

“The problems are very visible to anyone paying attention,” said Melanie Cawthon, executive director of disAbilitySA, an organization that assists people with disabilities.

When people find themselves obstructed by one or multiple scooters, those confined to the sidewalk are forced to make tough choices, she said, by turning around or traversing curbs and streets not intended for them.

“It’s a huge safety issue,” Cawthon, who represents district seven on the DAAC, said.

San Antonio isn’t alone in criticism over the handling of the now ubiquitous transportation method. Disability Rights Oregon called on Portland city officials on Monday to do more to protect right of ways. The city of San Diego along with Bird and Lime scooter companies were sued in federal court by disability rights advocates over similar issues in January.

The San Antonio City Council has discussed some of the recommendations in the past, including building more parking spaces for scooters and using GPS to keep alert riders about being in restricted areas.

A new aspect of the proposed “geo-fencing” feature requested in the draft was the levying of new in-app charges against riders who parked in the right of way or blocked accessible routes.

The draft memo also suggested encouraging companies to require riders to watch the safety and parking instruction video every 20 rides rather than only upon the apps first use.

But it isn’t just about bad parking, the draft memo wanted to encourage companies to create hardware to accommodate people with disabilities and software that would could be used by someone who was deaf.

Finally, the draft memo asks for enforcing a maximum number of units downtown.

“That’s what’s coming next month,” said downtown Councilman Roberto Treviño, referencing the forthcoming ordinance. “That is an important piece.”

Treviño said through a public request for proposals the city could use the data they have collected and work with companies to determine a limit.

According committee members, they also asked that limitations be explored on deploying the scooters in a certain footprint, so that large numbers don’t end up in the same area, increasing the likelihood of a blocked right ramp or sidewalk.

“When the bikes (and scooters) are put out, they are pretty good, but users are parking them poorly and impeding the sidewalks.”

In January, city staff said 15,000 scooters were moved by Centro San Antonio ambassadors, but only 70 had been impounded. The department was hoping to add staff to address the issue of illegally parked units. City council tightened regulations around scooters downtown, imposing limits on when scooters could be used and beefing up impounding rules in late February.

Scooters have proved popular to the community and tourists. City data counted 1.2 million rides by January.

San Antonio’s aging infrastructure has for many years been an issue for people with disabilities. Many neighborhoods lack sidewalks. Those that do have sidewalks that have buckled over the years, a lack of curb cutouts or ramps to allow access to people in wheelchairs.

“We already have challenges with existing sidewalks and with scooters — we are just compounding it,” Cawthon said.

More money for infrastructure is the way Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales wants to handle the scooter issues. She wanted to see more parking and other things to get them out of right of ways.

“We know that the connectivity of bike lanes has been lacking,” she said. “They could help people with disabilities.”

The city has invested heavily in streets and sidewalks to address neglected areas the past few years. This year $130 million — or more than 10 percent of the general fund — has been budgeted for Fiscal 19.

The way things are now is a step backward, Cawton said, and “the community around disability has fought way too hard to go backward.”

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


Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org