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Technology & Entrepreneurship

San Antonio Picks Lime, Razor and Bird Scooters For Exclusive Contracts

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Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
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Three companies were effectively awarded exclusive operating rights in San Antonio Thursday morning, capping more than a year of debate over regulatory uncertainty, pedestrian complaints and the city’s lacking infrastructure. 

Lime, Bird and Razor Scooters were given the green light in a 10-1 council vote. The vote among other things allows city staff to continue negotiating and finalize language with the companies for the two-year contracts in coming weeks. The ordinance bans other operators and gives them until Jan. 12 to remove vehicles from San Antonio streets, sidewalks and right of ways. 

The sole no vote, councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, argued the entire approach to the issue was misguided. 

“I thought we could have done this very differently if this had been taken seriously as a transportation alternative,” she said. “It was taken as a contract for downtown entertainment.”

Gonzalez has promoted alternative transportation methods like cycling in the past and pushed the city to join the pedestrian-safety movement Vision Zero.

The total number of scooters will drop to 3,000, or 1,000 per company, but could increase based on ridership. Currently ridership numbers have fallen to less than one-third of what they were a year ago based on scooter company data provided to the city. Scooter companies reduced the number deployed to meet the dwindling demand by more than half. 

Despite fewer scooters, citizen complaints around how and where devices are parked remain. 

“Sometimes they just tip over and they look like they were just thrown there like a pile of junk,” said Roberto Treviño District 1 councilman, advocating to city staff today for more parking and scooter racks. 

The city estimates it will raise more than a half million dollars in fees next year in fees with most coming from revenue sharing. The city will collect $0.25 per ride from the companies. $75,000 is earmarked specifically next year for infrastructure improvements like parking. 

The city will also add staff and parking enforcement officers to address downed and poorly parked vehicles, but still projects it will raise a projected $200,000 more than it spends. Money city staff would like to use for infrastructure like additional bike lanes. That didn’t sit right with one councilman.

“We shouldn’t be viewing this as a money making project,” said Clayton Perry, District 10 councilman. “I’m looking at the revenue that we’re asking these companies to fork over to the city and that is a huge amount of money.”

Perry said he didn’t want companies going out of business over fees. It should be noted that Lyft, which staff initially recommended for the contract, left San Antonio and five other cities, contracting in a move most attribute to a focus on profitability. 

Additionally, the estimate touted today assumes ridership, which continues to shrink. Based on the city projections, scooter companies would need to have around 141,000 rides per month. The past two months failed to meet that threshold by between 40,000-60,000 less than that. One scooter company rep who wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter said, due to the seasonal nature of the issue, the number would likely bear out. 

Related | San Antonio to Lift Ban on Late-Night Scooter Riding Despite Safety Progress.

Part of today’s vote also eliminated a ban on late-night riding. The city had imposed a “curfew” on the companies, which made the devices unusable between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. City staff thought the ban would reduce injuries on the devices. The corresponding data released by the city did see a fall in 911 calls and ambulance rides from scooter injuries.

Data from the lift could be presented to council in an estimated six months, to evaluate its impact.

In addition to mandating companies share revenue with the city, it also states scooter providers must conduct a minimum of eight public meetings and provide 1,500 free helmets in San Antonio. 

The city did ban scooters from riding on sidewalks in July. Sidewalk riding persists. Enforcement will be beefed up with forthcoming money in terms of overtime shifts for police focused solely on scooter traffic infractions. 

Even with the passage of these contracts, the scooter issue is far from resolved though because of San Antonio’s history of focusing solely on cars in transportation.

“Clearly, we have an infrastructure deficiency that we need to address moving forward in transportation system wide,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

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