After a city ordinance outlawed the riding of scooters on sidewalks, the San Antonio Police Department has issued fewer than 10 citations. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Police Department officers have ticketed electric scooter riders just six times since the City banned sidewalk riding in July, though more than 1,100 warnings have been issued.

SAPD Capt. Chris Benavides said the City’s public education campaign, along with that of scooter companies, contributed to a decrease in the number of citations issued in August and September. In July, officers cited five scooterists, mostly for going the wrong way on their scooters. In August, however, 455 warnings were handed out, an increase from the previous month, when offenders were warned 359 times. Warnings were down in September, with just 346 issued during the month.

“We’ve done some extensive work trying to educate the riding public, on the dos and don’ts,” Benavides said. “Generally from a law enforcement perspective, we see [fewer] violations. And we’d like to attribute that to the education piece.”

Benavides said the vast majority of the warnings issued were to scooterists riding on sidewalks, which City Council voted to prohibit earlier this year. The Council banned sidewalk riding largely in response to calls from constituents complaining about scooters traveling up to 20 miles per hour on pedestrian rights-of-way. The one citation issued in August was in connection with a scooterist riding on the sidewalk.

The maximum fine violators face for a scooter-related traffic offense is $500. Benavides said the each of the offenders ticketed to date has faced a fine.

A challenge for police officers is getting the word out to visitors about the City’s scooter rules. Because scooters are largely concentrated in the tourist-heavy center city, many violators are from out of town. Tourists constitute a large majority of the riders officers have cited or issued warnings to, he said.

“Probably the most demanding [task] for us as a city and the police department is getting the message to the one-time users or the visitors that aren’t as familiar with all of the local education that’s going on regarding scooters,” he said.

Citations have been rare because officers have used their judgment to issue traffic citations only for the most egregious violations, such as when a scooter rider is putting his or herself or others in harms’ way. That’s why the bulk of the citations have been issued to riders who were going against traffic, Benavides said.

On an average day in downtown San Antonio, minors can be spotted on scooters typically riding alongside their parents. Under the City ordinance, anyone younger than 16 cannot ride a scooter, and all of the apps require a valid government-issued ID to activate the scooter.

When minors are caught riding on scooters, Benavides said, SAPD protocol has been to locate their parents and inform them of the regulations. He said, however, that warnings for minors riding scooters have not been issued in the recent past.

A pilot program that began the formal regulation of the so-called dockless vehicle business has been extended past its original Sept. 30 expiration date. It will continue until three scooter companies are selected to operate in San Antonio on a permanent basis. They are slated to operate a total of 5,000 scooters in the city, down from a fleet of 16,100 vehicles at the pilot program’s peak.

The City Council is expected to select the three companies by November. Applicants include San Antonio’s current scooter-share providers Bird, Lime, Lyft, Razor, and Spin. Four companies that haven’t operated locally – OjO, Veoride, Frog, and Wheels Labs – also have submitted bids.

Benavides said he sees citations becoming even rarer when the City pares down the number of locally authorized scooters and scooter-share companies.

“I anticipate citations going down because we’re going to continue our educational model, trying to reach as many riders as possible and working with the scooter companies,” he said. “And when you see [fewer] vehicles on the roadway, the hope is that you’ll see [fewer] incidents.”

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