A family rides three on a Bird scooter on a downtown San Antonio sidewalk.
An adult and two children ride a Bird scooter on a downtown San Antonio sidewalk. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The seven scooter companies operating a total of about 16,000 dockless electric vehicles in San Antonio have four months to prove they should be allowed to stay in the city, and scooterists have a month before they’re banned from riding on the sidewalk, San Antonio City Council decided Thursday.

By early October, a city government bidding process will pare the number of authorized operators to three and the number of vehicles to 5,000. On June 30, riding on the sidewalk will be prohibited.

By virtue of Thursday’s vote, the pilot program under which scooter companies were previously operating has been extended until Sept. 30.

The measure also reduced by half the number of authorized vehicles for companies that are permitted for 1,000 vehicles or more. For example, Lime, which had been approved for 4,000 scooters, will see its fleet reduced to 2,000. That would bring the total number of permitted vehicles down to 8,750, although the average number of vehicles available for use on city streets has been around 6,000.

Council was set to consider barring scooter use on sidewalks this fall, along with its selection of three scooter companies, but Councilman John Courage (D9) tossed in an amendment to issue the ban beginning June 30.

“It really is a matter of safety,” Courage said. “We haven’t talked about how many accidents have taken place recently. … Obviously, it’s a problem with [scooter riders] on the sidewalks. Let’s alleviate that problem right away.”

More than 150 scooter-related accidents have been reported to the City’s Emergency Medical Services since October, although they have decreased by 36 percent since the City implemented an 11 p.m. curfew for riding scooters in February.

Beginning its regulation of the nascent scooter-share industry with a light-touch approach, the City later shifted its rules in response to an increasing number of reported injuries and complaints about sidewalk clutter.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), who has railed in recent months against the proliferation of dockless vehicles, voted in favor of the government bidding process but remained concerned that a 5,000-vehicle limit would not fix what he sees as a problem.

“I still think 5,000 is too much,” Pelaez said. “… I’m hesitant, and I’m a little scared of what 5,000 might look like. And I fear 5,000 looks exactly like what it looks like right now.”

Dockless scooter-share first landed in the city last June when Los Angeles-based Bird placed hundreds of vehicles in downtown San Antonio. The vehicles can be rented using a smartphone with rates of $1 to unlock the scooters and 15 cents for every minute of usage.

The company – along with other providers throughout the country – had operated with a forgiveness-not-permission mentality, putting vehicles on the street overnight without notifying government officials.

The City of San Antonio enacted a pilot program in response to the growing fleet of the sharable electric vehicles. The pilot began last fall with a required permit application for companies wanting to operate in the City but no cap on the number of vehicles citywide. The number of authorized companies grew to seven before the City issued a moratorium on additional permits. Permitting fees will be prorated through the extension of the pilot program.

Reflecting on the increasingly contentious scooter issue, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the problem was exacerbated by inadequate infrastructure.

“This is our need for a market that drives innovation and transportation colliding with the fact that we’ve made really bad decisions about how to deal with our transportation infrastructure in the city,” he said.

The City will solicit bids from scooter companies beginning June 7. They are due July 22.

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