Scooters are lined up across the street from Alameda Theatre.
Council voted 10-1 to formalize agreements with California-based Bird, Lime, and Razor. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio City Council approved contracts with three scooter-share firms on Thursday, ending a months-long process to narrow the number of electric scooter operators and downsize the local fleet.

Council voted 10-1 to formalize agreements with California-based Bird, Lime, and Razor, the longest-serving companies in the local market. The two-year contracts will kick in Jan. 12 with the three companies receiving authorization to operate up to 1,000 e-scooters each for a total fleet of 3,000.

That fleet would be less than half of the 5,850 currently permitted vehicles but more than the average total vehicles on the street any given day in November, which was 2,636.

Nine companies, a handful of which have never operated in the San Antonio market, submitted bids. Locally owned Blue Duck Scooters, whose application to the City was not accepted after it was time-stamped a minute past the deadline, and Ford Motor Co.-owned Spin will have to remove their scooters from public rights-of-way before Jan. 12.

Council also temporarily lifted a scooter-riding curfew that had been in place for nearly a year at the height of a spike in scooter-related accidents, which sent many to local emergency rooms. The curfew barred scooter riding from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., and the City noticed a significant dip in the number of injuries caused by accidents involving scooters. But the prohibition also prevented late shift workers from being able to use them for commuting.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) cast the lone vote against the contracts, citing her concern that they were developed as an “entertainment” feature for downtown rather than as a serious opportunity to enhance micromobility.

In six months, Council will review data collected from rides taken at night relating to crashes, parking violations, and where trips are taken, said John Jacks, director of the City’s Center City Development Office.

“Then Council can decide [on whether] to make it a permanent ban,” Jacks said.

City Council also changed the required response time companies have to address scooters that are blocking infrastructure required by the Americans with Disabilities Act from two hours to one hour.

The City has said the scooter program will cost nearly $430,000 to administer in fiscal year 2020. The costs include implementing rider education initiatives, paying San Antonio Police Department overtime shifts to enforce scooter laws, staffing costs, and parking infrastructure improvements. The City anticipates taking in $562,000 in revenue from the scooter-share companies in Fiscal Year 2020 from a one-time infrastructure fee, annual permit fees, and a revenue-sharing agreement.

Though he voted in favor of the contracts, Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) noted that he had concerns about the City profiting off the companies.

We shouldn’t be viewing this as a money-making project here,” Perry said.

The revenue generated from the contracts, after covering costs of the program, could be used to fund parking infrastructure for scooters, bike or micromobility lanes, or other transportation initiatives at Council’s discretion, Jacks said. 

Bird first arrived, unannounced and uninvited, in June 2018, dropping a few hundred scooters overnight in downtown San Antonio. Lime and Razor followed later that summer.

Bird, arguably San Antonio’s most popular scooter-share brand, was left off the City’s initial shortlist recommended to Council to receive a contract. But after Lyft, which had the highest score after evaluations by an 11-member committee, announced it would pull out of the San Antonio market in November, the City began negotiating with Bird, which scored fourth in the City’s review of bids, after Lyft, Lime, and Razor. Lyft removed its 1,000 permitted vehicles from San Antonio streets last month.

At its peak, the fleet of e-scooters on San Antonio streets was more than 16,000 vehicles from seven companies. And as City Council and other City officials began fielding complaints about scooters being recklessly ridden on sidewalks and parked haphazardly in pedestrian rights-of-way, the tide began to turn on what had begun as a pilot program last fall with no vehicle caps, few regulations, and little enforcement.

The City’s 311 reporting system captured more than 6,000 complaints related to scooters so far. Most complaints related to scooters abandoned on sidewalks, but nearly 1,700 complaints fell under an “other” category that was not further defined. Jacks said the City will be working to add other categories to the reporting system in an attempt to figure out if “other” perhaps captures a general dislike for scooters. 

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.