Pedestrian, vehicle, and scooter traffic navigate through the Pearl District.
Scooter riders navigate through the Pearl District. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The City of San Antonio has shut the door on more dockless scooters and bikes  – at least until its six-month pilot regulation program ends in April.

The City Council’s Transportation Committee took immediate action Tuesday to place a moratorium on dockless operator permits as part of regulations the City enacted in October. The full Council also is set to consider a curfew for riding dockless vehicles, encouraging riders and scooter company contractors to park the vehicles in designated parking zones, and immediately impounding vehicles parked in prohibited areas.

The moratorium also restricts current operators from adding more vehicles to their fleets. However, it does not apply to Lyft’s application submitted last week to operate 2,000 scooters in San Antonio.

Perhaps still recovering from its unpopular approach to regulating the rideshare industry, which drove out Uber and Lyft, City Council aimed last year to oversee the nascent dockless vehicle market with light regulations. But now that the local electric scooter and bike fleet has ballooned into the thousands – with about 14,000 vehicles authorized, more under consideration, and around 7,000 deployed on a given day – Transportation Committee members Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), and Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) took a harder line at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Whether you love scooters or hate scooters, what’s clear is what we have right now isn’t working,” Sandoval said. The councilwoman recounted nearly being struck by scooters on the sidewalk and seeing the vehicles cluttering pedestrian thoroughfares. She expressed her disappointment that residents ostensibly could not report issues with dockless vehicles to 311. A scooter complaint option was added only recently to the City’s 311SA app.

Scooters, Pelaez said, have become a public nuisance. “I’ve gotten enough data to know there are already too many scooters out there,” he said, referring to the calls he gets from his constituents complaining about them. “There isn’t a single neighborhood in my district that thinks that this is a great idea.”

Brockhouse applauded Pelaez’s comments but maintained he is “more interested in figuring out ways to embrace [dockless mobility] rather than eliminate it.”

But Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) took a different tack: “What if we held the auto industry to the same account that we are holding the micro transportation?” she asked rhetorically. Gonzales said the City should embrace investing in infrastructure that will create a safer environment for riding dockless vehicles as well as traditional bicycles.

“A lot of the core of the city is very young,” she said. “We should be making policies that will last for generations.”

Now in the third month of the pilot program, City staff is enforcing regulations more strictly. The City impounded 70 scooters in December but has not confiscated any since then, as the scooter companies have become “more vigilant” about correcting issues, said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations Department, which oversees the pilot program. The San Antonio Police Department will also heighten its enforcement of riding violations.

City Council is set to take up the additional proposed amendments to the program on Feb. 14. Unlike the last time the City considered rules for scooters, however, the companies may not find all of the new regulations agreeable.

“Some of them have expressed some concern about” picking the scooters and bikes up by 11:30 p.m, Jacks said. “Some of it may have to do with specific locations or how many there are in an area, so there may be some compromise there.”

The proposed curfew allows for dockless vehicles to be ridden from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Council also will consider whether to allow the City to collect scooters from prohibited areas without warning the companies. Operators currently have an hour to respond when their vehicles are in prohibited areas, such as the River Walk and Alamo Plaza, and two hours to respond to issues in other areas.

After the pilot program concludes, the City will consider whether to increase its application and permitting fees to cover the cost of greater enforcement coverage. Companies may also be required to use geofencing technology to limit riders from entering prohibited areas. Banning riding on the sidewalks is also under consideration.

The City will survey the public again to garner feedback on the dockless mobility industry and how the pilot program has worked thus far. Jacks noted the changed tenor of the debate around scooters as more vehicles have been deployed in more areas of the city.

“When we first adopted the ordinance there were about 3,000,” Jacks said. “Now we have permitted up to 14,000. It’s clearly changed what it looks like, what it feels like. … It’s our job to listen to Council and come up with a good recommendation, and that’s what we’ll do moving forward into February.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

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