Scooters such as Bird and Lime are used during the first Síclovía since the new mode of transportation has landed in San Antonio.
Participants ride Bird and Lime e-scooters during Síclovía. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The City of San Antonio has established a temporary set of rules for the approximately 3,000 dockless, electric scooters operating in the city.

The six-month pilot program, approved by the San Antonio City Council on Thursday, will allow the City to gather ridership data and study how the vehicles are being used “to get a better understanding of what the impact is on the city of San Antonio, our streets, and citizens,” said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations Department. “In six months we’ll have a much better idea … whether or not we need to make any adjustments.”

The City will not require riders to wear helmets, and while scooters can be ridden on sidewalks or roads, riders should use bike lanes when available. The pilot program also establishes operating fees and $50 impoundment fines for improperly parked vehicles. City Council could choose to establish a permanent ordinance after the pilot program.

Los Angeles-based Bird in June deployed hundreds of e-scooters in downtown San Antonio. San Mateo, California-based LimeBike then released hundreds of its own e-scooters a month later. The scooter fleet has gradually increased and spread to other parts of the city.

Some of the rules e-scooter companies and riders will have to observe during the six-month program include:

  • $10 fee per vehicle and a $500 application fee for e-scooter vendors. For example, Bird would pay the City $17,500 to operate its 1,700 scooters in the city.
  • Each permitted scooter company is required to have a San Antonio-based fleet manager and will share monthly data on usage, violations, and trips.
  • Each operator must include rider safety information, such as where riding is barred and how to lawfully park, in its app.
  • Riders must be at least 16 years old and cannot travel on roads with speed limits of 35 miles per hour and higher.
  • A two-foot walk path must be maintained for pedestrians on sidewalks.
  • Parking guidelines require scooters to be placed in an orderly and upright fashion and a three-foot clearance for pedestrians must be provided on sidewalks.

Scooter vendors will have two hours to correct any violations and one hour when violations occur in prohibited areas. The City is encouraging residents to contact the scooter companies directly – and has mandated the placement of a 24-hour number on every vehicle – so that any misconduct or parking issues can be reported. Residents can also call 311 to report any improper use.

What the City will not regulate at this point is the number of scooters allowed in the city. Cities such as Austin and San Francisco have capped the number of vehicles that can be operated. Jacks said the City does not yet have enough data to set a reasonable cap.

The City also will not place geographic boundaries on e-scooter vendors. In the future, Jacks said companies could use GPS-based geofencing technology to prevent riding and parking in sensitive areas.

Earlier this year, the app-enabled e-scooters began appearing in major urban centers throughout the country. While riders have enthusiastically embraced them, the scooters have angered some residents for their public safety and accessibility implications. Several San Antonians have testified in public meetings that they have seen or experienced near-collisions with e-scooters riders on the sidewalk. Scooters have also been found in or near ramps for residents who use wheelchairs.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said he has heard from constituents who say the scooters have become a nuisance.

“Prior city councils had to deal with the advent of cars, carriages, and people on roller skates,” Pelaez said, adding that accidents are caused by people not following the rules or exercising common sense. “Our job is to ensure more people are safe, and this technology is here to stay no matter what we do. The best thing sometimes is to accept the cards that have been dealt to us and try to adapt.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he receives many messages on social media sites from residents who have photographed improperly parked scooters. The best way for residents to respond, Nirenberg said, has been to ask the companies nicely to clean up the mess.

“On Oct. 12, we stop asking nicely,” he said.

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