Expect to see more dockless electric scooters whizzing around downtown and North Central, now that City Council has launched a six-month pilot program complete with regulations.
The decision in mid-October covers nearly 3,000 vehicles, which officials say promise a potential solution to a transit gap. More scooter companies have expressed interest in coming to the Alamo City.
The six-month pilot program will “analyze and study the activities, the riders and ridership,” said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations Department.
Electric scooters are a welcome addition to San Antonio, because this is a “brand-new industry that was crowdsourced to resolve (mobility issues),” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who has received numerous complaints about the scooters blocking walkways or causing near-accidents.
In the past, the city has politely asked that scooter vendors share vehicle updates and correct violations, but “after Oct. 12 we (stopped) asking nicely,” he added.
Since the conveyances suddenly appeared on city sidewalks in June, the app-powered scooters have been a popular “last-mile solution” for young professionals moving in and around downtown. However, a growing number of scooters can be found parked or in use near bus stops, near major cultural attractions along Broadway and on neighborhood sidewalks.
“I use (scooters) for convenience. At first, (I tried them) for the thrill of it all, just to say I did it, but it’s really affordable,” said Meaghan Fragoso, 25, a barista at PRESS coffee. “I like that it’s in major cities, so there’s less worrying about parking. I think if people can learn to have respect for the parking process, instead of leaving them in places where they shouldn’t be, this could work out really well.”
A recent city survey showed 75 percent of residents thought electric scooters were a positive development, while 70 percent of respondents had used or would use the vehicles as an affordable, convenient transportation option.
While many U.S. cities have limited or banned electric vehicles, council members agreed the e-scooters are “here to stay.”
Electric scooters may not immediately replace cars on San Antonio roads, but they add to the conversation about better, safer transit infrastructure, said District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño.
“This is really about people; we want to make sure people are safe, and that they have safe access to our city,” Treviño said. “The scooters have helped to highlight the deficiencies in our infrastructure.”
The program allows riders to use sidewalks when bike lanes are unavailable, but they must leave a 2-foot clearance for pedestrians. Riders must be at least 16 years old and are barred from roads with a speed limit above 35 mph.
Scooters must be parked upright and provide 3 feet of space for pedestrians on sidewalks. Scooters cannot block ramps for the physically challenged, benches and bus stops or be used in parks, trails, plazas or destinations such as the River Walk and Olmos Basin Park.
The program does not require riders to wear helmets, but imposes a 20-mph speed limit. Vendors will hire a locally based fleet manager and share monthly data on usage, trips and violations.
Residents are encouraged to use a 24-hour line — the number is found on all electric vehicles — to report scooter parking violations directly to vendors, who will have two hours to correct the issue or pay a $50 fine. Residents can also call 311 to report improper rider behavior.
Most scooter violations have been quickly corrected by new riders and company-approved freelancers, who are paid to collect, charge and park vehicles, officials said. In response to resident complaints about scooter riders who ignore traffic laws, companies are now required to share safety education with users before each ride. The San Antonio Police Department, Centro San Antonio and other program ambassadors will help monitor and enforce scooter regulations in the coming months.
The city will also consider adding tools like geofencing, a GPS technology, to prevent users from using and parking electric vehicles in restricted areas.
Three vendors — Bird, Lime and Blue Duck Scooters, a local startup — are in operation, but four other companies have expressed interest in coming to the San Antonio market. While cities like Austin have capped the number of electric vehicles in use, the Alamo City will remain open to additional scooters and firms.
The city will require all scooter companies to pay an annual $500 vendor fee, and $10 per vehicle in operation.