Bird scooters line a downtown sidewalk shortly after they appeared in San Antonio last year. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bird was the highest-ranked company after an evaluation committee scored written proposals to the City of San Antonio’s scooter-share bid. But after Bird and four other finalists for three scooter contracts were brought in for interviews in October, the company found itself on the outside looking in.

San Antonio City Council appeared on Wednesday to largely affirm the evaluation committee’s recommendation of Lime, Lyft, and Razor as the three scooter-share companies set to be the sole operators of dockless vehicles beyond this fall.

John Jacks, center city development and operations director, told the Rivard Report that a proposal by Lime and Lyft to lower each company’s scooter permit allotment to 1,000 played a part in the companies each receiving higher scores after a presentation and question-and-answer portion of the evaluation process.

The City is recommending Council authorize contracts with the three firms that allot 1,000 to each for a total fleet of 3,000 scooters. Initially, staff had recommended moving forward with a fleet of about 5,000 scooters split evenly among the three companies.

Bird’s reliance on contract employees to collect scooters at night, charge them, and then deploy them in the morning appears to also have played a role in its score falling from 61.82 in the initial evaluation phase to 51.46 after the interview, Jacks said.

“When scooters were dropped in the city of San Antonio, we were forced to deal with the situation,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during a Council workshop meeting ahead of a final vote on the three contracts. “This speaks to how we handle new technologies. … It’s been a difficult process to work through but we did so with eyes wide open trying to deal with some difficult issues regarding clutter, public safety, access for pedestrians, and people of all abilities.”

After briefing the Council at Wednesday’s meeting, City staff will now enter into contract negotiations with the three companies. Council will decide whether to approve the contracts at a meeting on Dec. 12.

The City also recommended eliminating a curfew that barred e-scooter riding between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The curfew was enacted at a time when the frequency with which scooter-related injuries were occurring sounded alarm bells among city leaders. The curfew helped curb incidents but also deprived some residents of a potential commuting option when fewer buses operate.

Lime and Lyft proffered a reduction in their fleet because they felt the demand was gradually decreasing and that it would behoove both the City and the local scooter landscape to not oversaturate the market. The currently operating scooter companies – Bird, Lime, Razor, Blue Duck Scooters, Lyft, and Spin – appear to have already dialed back their daily deployment, according to staff presentations. In February, the companies released approximately 6,700 vehicles per day. That number declined to an average of 2,800 in October.

“Demand is slowing, and the companies are responding,” Jacks said.

A fleet of 3,000 scooters would be less than half of the 6,850 currently permitted vehicles. At its peak, the local scooter fleet stood at 16,100 authorized e-scooters and e-bikes.

In a presentation Wednesday, Jacks said the scooter program would cost nearly $430,000 to administer in fiscal year 2020, including for rider education initiatives, paying San Antonio Police Department overtime shifts to enforce scooter laws, staffing costs, and parking infrastructure improvements. The City anticipates garnering $562,000 in revenue in FY 2020 from a one-time infrastructure fee, annual permit fees, and a revenue-sharing agreement.

Nirenberg proposed using funds left over from the anticipated revenue to fund San Antonio Bike Share’s docked bike-share program, which is at risk of folding in light of that organization losing its title sponsor. It’s yet to be seen whether that suggestion will be taken up and if it would be able to stabilize the faltering organization.

“I think it would be a mistake if we just let it happen and not assert ourselves a little bit and say, ‘We want [San Antonio Bike Share] to continue in San Antonio. … They’re a large part of a bigger picture we’re trying create with regard to alternative modes of transportation.”

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), perhaps the most vocal critic of scooters on Council, said he still feels the overwhelming majority of residents would like to rid the city, and public rights-of-way, of scooters. However, paring down the number of scooters will help, he said but cautioned against celebrating so-called disruptive technology.

“There is a role for City Council and for government to make sure that disruptive technology serves the community and benefits everybody, and that it doesn’t get too far out from under us,” Pelaez said.

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