On June 30, riding scooters on sidewalks will be prohibited, a new regulation to dockless vehicles the City Council adopted in a 9-1 vote. District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez was the lone nay vote; District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales was absent.
The council also unanimously voted to reduce the number of dockless vehicles to 5,000—nearly a third reduction from the 16,100 e-scooters and e-bikes currently permitted—as well as the number of companies in operation to three.
Currently, seven companies operate mostly e-scooters on San Antonio streets and sidewalks.
The city's downtown department will be working with San Antonio police to enforce the sidewalk ban, but whether to issue a citation or warning to sidewalk riders will be at the discretion of each police officer, said John Jacks, director of the City Center Development and Operations (CCDO).
The process to select the three operators will begin June 7, and the City Council is expected to vote on the three selections in October. Until then, the companies with more than 1,000 vehicles in operation can apply for permit extensions, which would last until Sept. 30, but they will have to cut their vehicles by half in order to receive the extension.
The three selected operators would be given two-year contracts with a one-year extension. Selected vendors will pay a one-time $25,000 fee for the first year, then a permit of $100 per vehicle the second year and extension year.
To date, the city had made $154,500 from fees, revenue used to pay city staff to correct scooters that are improperly parked on sidewalks, streets or in prohibited areas like Alamo Plaza or the River Walk. The city estimates it could receive up to $53,955 in addition fee revenue from companies looking to extend their permits between now and October, when the three operators are selected. The fees also pay police officers' overtime shifts to enforce riding rules and "rider education efforts," such as spray-on scooter parking decals, posters advertising prohibited riding areas and requirements in the app for companies to share safety guidelines.
The amendment banning sidewalk riding was one that the council was supposed to consider in October, but District 9 Councilman John Courage motioned to have the matter decided today after District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said extending dockless vehicle vendors' permits, while not banning sidewalk riding, did not address reckless riding behavior.
CCDO recommended addressing the sidewalk ban in October because companies with original permits, which extend into the summer, are allowed to have their vehicles ridden on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, scooter permits that expire this month prohibit sidewalk use.
Assistant City Manager Lori Houston explained the October recommendation would prevent a “mixed message” towards users and dockless vehicle vendors.
But council didn’t want to wait until then.
"Waiting until September or October to initiate this, it's just a case for more accidents to occur," Courage said. Courage also suggested CCDO consider special permits for people who work downtown to use the scooters after the 11 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. riding curfew, which was imposed by council on Feb. 14. According to CCDO, accidents have decreased by 36.4 percent since the curfew was approved
In an April phone interview, John Jacks, director of CCDO, said companies that don’t have their permits extended must phase their vehicles out by September. No new dockless vehicles companies will be given permits during this extension.
CCDO capped the vendor amount to three so the city would have less involvement in their enforcement, putting the onus on the companies to move misplaced vehicles, Houston said. A fourth vendor could be added if more people started riding dockless vehicles in areas where they’re not commonly used, such as in the suburbs. The 5,000 vehicle cap could be increased, too, via approval from the council's Transportation Committee.
When the currently-operating dockless vehicle vendors permits expire, at various times during the summer, they can apply for the permit extension.
Lyft, Razor, Bird and Lime’s permits expire in June; Jump, Spin and Blue Duck’s permits expire in July.
When the three companies are selected, the $25,000 up-front fee will cover the cost of delineating parking zones, which CCDO began installing around downtown in February, among other infrastructure needs.
These recommendations follow a series of initiatives by CCDO and the council to regulate dockless vehicles and their riders since operator Bird hit the streets in June of last year.
On Oct. 11, the City Council began a pilot program to structure the regulations. In January, the Transportation Committee issued a moratorium on issuing permits to dockless vehicle operators after a groundswell of complaints of reckless riding and vehicle clutter on sidewalks.
In October, CCDO will present more recommendations to the council regarding the dockless vehicle program, including capping a vehicle's speed limit to 15 mph, and requiring vendors to encourage riders to use helmets and park in designated zones.