Scooters line Soledad Street.
Scooters line Soledad Street in downtown San Antonio. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio has increased regulations for the growing fleet of scooters and electric bikes that have crowded sidewalks throughout the urban core.

City Council on Thursday added new measures to its pilot program for dockless e-scooters and e-bikes, designed to test rules for the nascent industry. The City started out with light regulations including a minimum rider age of 16 and barring the vehicles from the River Walk and other recreational areas. But scooters were deemed permissible for sidewalk use, and enforcement proved challenging early in the pilot program for a limited number of City employees policing how the scooters met municipal parking standards.

“Bottom line, the light touch has not worked out,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said. “We have a lot of scooters – specifically downtown – and many of them can cause a lot of issues for pedestrians simply trying to get to where they need to go.”

The City has now imposed an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Bird and Lime, the city’s two largest operators with more than 8,000 permitted e-scooters combined, use contractors to collect the vehicles at night, charge them, and then redistribute them along city thoroughfares. The scooters that remain charged, however, are not picked up and can be ridden late at night. The new curfew would require the companies to make scooters inoperable during curfew hours.

More than 40 percent of the 93 injuries reported to the city’s Emergency Medical Services occurred between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., according to a City presentation at Thursday’s Council meeting. A City spokeswoman told the Rivard Report after the meeting that the number of scooter-related injuries has climbed to 101.

A 21-year-old Irish man was killed in Austin earlier this month after riding the wrong way on a rented e-scooter on a stretch of Interstate 35 frontage road near that city’s downtown. The incident occurred at 1 a.m.

The slight vehicles are equipped with lights on the handlebars and tail lights, but companies are redesigning new generations of their scooters to include reflective paint and other safety features to help motorists spot them.

Other updated regulations include identifying areas where the dockless vehicles must be removed to accommodate construction, downtown maintenance work, and special events. Downtown landowners pay into a public improvement district in downtown San Antonio, which funds such services as washing the sidewalks at night. Largely concentrated downtown, the city’s dockless vehicle fleets have impeded workers’ ability to power-wash the sidewalks, said Warren Wilkinson, executive director of the nonprofit Centro San Antonio.

The amended pilot program also gives the City the ability to impound dockless vehicles in prohibited areas, such as the Mission Reach and Alamo Plaza, and those blocking ramps for wheelchair users.

More than 14,000 dockless vehicles – 12,100 e-scooters and 2,000 e-bikes – have been permitted under the six-month pilot program, which is slated to end in April. In late January at a Transportation Committee meeting, the City Council voted to close permitting applications for the remainder of the pilot period.

It remains to be seen whether the Council will choose to cap the number of dockless vehicles it allows once the pilot program ends. About two-thirds of the permitted vehicles are deployed on a daily basis, City officials have said. Still, about 63 percent of respondents to a City survey on the pilot program have said they would like to see fewer vehicles. The survey, a follow-up to a public engagement process that preceded the pilot program, was sent out two weeks ago and has thus far polled 2,863 residents. The survey can be found here.

Councilman John Courage (D9) suggested the City consider issuing a bid to contract with the top two dockless vehicle operators and limit the number of authorized vehicles, an idea that garnered support from other Council members. Concerned about indirect costs associated with enforcing the City’s scooter rules, Courage said the City should only contract companies that will agree to share revenue to offset the expense of clearing the path for pedestrians and enforcing traffic rules.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said none of his constituents like scooters. As his office has fielded an increasing number of negative calls regarding the scooters, Pelaez said he has discovered why scooters elicit such an emotional response: Private companies are profiting off of taxpayers’ investment – sidewalks – and rendering them less useful for residents.

“I think it’s reasonable for San Antonio taxpayers to expect some kind of return when someone is making money [using public infrastructure],” he said, while advocating for a revenue-sharing model.

But Mayor Ron Nirenberg called for patience from his Council as the pilot program winds down into its final months, adding there remains time for the market to correct the perceived overload of dockless vehicles.

“I hope the rest of the pilot will help us figure out what further tweaks we need to make,” he said.

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

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