In a 9-1 vote Thursday, the City Council added tougher regulations to the dockless vehicle pilot program, which is set to end April 19, in response to public concerns over reckless riding and e-scooter clutter on sidewalks.
The latest wave of regulations were handed down nine months after the first scooters appeared on San Antonio streets in June by way of Bird. The city estimates there are 9,500 dockless vehicles (mostly e-scooters) currently in play throughout the city, with permits issued for 14,100 vehicles.
The latest revisions are:
» People are only allowed to ride e-scooters 6 a.m.-11 p.m.
» City staff, workers with Centro San Antonio and other “partners” can remove illegally parked dockless vehicles without warning the companies. The rides can also be removed for "special events, construction or maintenance work” by the public improvement district (contract employees of Centro San Antonio) at the discretion of John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations (CCDO) department.
The Council’s action also ratifies the moratorium the city’s Transportation Committee placed on Jan. 22 on issuing new permits—capping those permits at 14,100.
The latest amendments will cost the city $154,500—for increased enforcement personnel, public education, and the creation of scooter parking.
The amendments will go into effect on Feb. 19.
The only dissenting vote was made by District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who said the amendments were too restrictive on the dockless vehicle industry. Gonzales said the scooters were an alternative mode of transportation that aligned with ConnectSA, a plan to develop a transportation strategy to alleviate expected traffic congestion by 2040.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño advocated for a more rigid rules framework he said to better incorporate scooters in the downtown area.
"The light touch doesn't work," Treviño said.
District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez suggested a concession model, one in which cities regulate where, when and how many vehicles companies can bring into a market.
"Just because this is disruptive and new and there’s an app attached to it that somehow we need to let the market play out on our streets," Pelaez said. "No, we don't. It's not a suicide pact."
Out of 2,864 respondents to an SASpeaksUp survey launched two weeks ago, 42.6 percent said they used e-scooters for fun, 20.9 percent for commuting to work, and 6.7 percent for commuting to school. Nearly 63 percent of respondents said they wanted to see fewer scooters in the city, and 81 percent of respondents said scooters "look cluttered in some areas." A little more than 66 percent said they've seen dockless vehicles in prohibited areas such as the River Walk, Alamo Plaza, and park trails and paths.
District 10 Councilman John Courage wanted the next public survey to give participants the option to say whether they wanted scooters banned. He also was unsure if the 311 app was recording the amount of violations and accidents occurring with scooters, saying the reporting system should be improved by including calls made to council members.
According to the San Antonio Fire Department, 93 scooter-related injuries have occurred since October. Nearly 41 percent of those accidents happened between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. On Jan. 12, the city update its 311 app, allowing the public to report scooter parking violations. Since then, there have been 398 reported violations on the mobile app and 612 reported in total (a combination of calls and app notifications).
Currently, four code enforcement officers work during the day to enforce scooter regulations, while police officers work on overtime shifts to enforce regulations at night.
Since November, 20,500 scooters have been "corrected" by city staff—meaning they’ve been moved away from the street or have been stood upright when they’ve fallen. The city has impounded 70 scooters, so far. Dockless vehicle permit fees, which are $10 per vehicle and $500 for the application, pay for the code enforcement officers.
There have been 1.4 million rides since the pilot program launched in October. Of that total, 242,645 rides were made in January, with people traveling nearly ¾ of a mile, on average, per ride. There are 5,916 vehicles deployed daily in the city, the city reports.
To help alleviate sidewalk clutter, CCDO staff has made temporary parking spaces around downtown using stencils on large portions of sidewalks. The spaces can be expanded by redrawing the boundaries depending on their location. Jacks said this preliminary testing would help the city understand where parking spaces are used the most, which could lead to them becoming permanent. High-density areas like the Henry B. González Convention Center and the Alamodome are potential areas for permanent spaces, Jacks said.
The city is also exploring converting metered street parking spaces into scooter corrals.
After the pilot program ends in April, other layers of regulations are likely.
Senate Bill 549, a bill currently in the Texas Legislature, will regulate dockless vehicles and would go into effect on Sept. 1. Similar to San Antonio's program, the state bill would require a rider to hold a valid driver's license and be at least 16 years old, and they also couldn't carry more than one person on a vehicle. According to the bill, dockless vehicles can only be ridden on sidewalks or bike lanes, unless the speed limit on the road or street is 30 mph or less; and the speed limit of the vehicle itself cannot exceed 15 mph. It's unclear whether the state law—should it pass—would supersede San Antonio's regulations.
For future regulations, the city is considering using geofencing technology to slow or stop vehicles from operating in restricted areas such as the Pearl (which The Rivard Report was first to report about), the River Walk, and Alamo Plaza. San Pedro Creek Culture Park and the Missions trailways are other potential areas where geofencing could be used.
Other regulations considered could reduce the amount of scooters in the city, establish a maximum speed for dockless vehicles, require more data from dockless vehicle operators, select which operators can deploy vehicles in the city, increase the cost of permit fees, and ban sidewalk riding.
CCDO will go back to the Transportation Committee before the end of the pilot program in April to discuss future amendments.