SCOOTER WAR ON AUSTIN STREETS, IN CITY OF­FICES

Sud­den in­flux means city must speed up plans to cre­ate rules.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By BenWear bwear@states­man.com

A scooter war has bro­ken out in Austin.

LimeBike put more than 200 elec­tric rental scoot­ers on Austin streets Mon­day. The San Ma­teo, Calif.-based com­pany, ac­cord­ing to a Mon­day let­ter to Mayor Steve Adler and City Man­ager Spencer Cronk, had lost pa­tience with what it saw as the city’s timid re­ac­tion to Bird Rides putting out sim­i­lar scoot­ers April 5.

“It is now ap­par­ent that our com­peti­tor will be al­lowed to op­er­ate with­out any sig­nif­i­cant reper­cus­sions,” LimeBike CEO and founder Tony Sun said in the let­ter. Ac­cord­ing to the let­ter, the com­pany has “Lime-S” scoot­ers on the ground in San Diego, Los An­ge­les, San Fran­cisco and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

The sud­den in­cur­sion of the scoot­ers — low, two-wheeled plat- forms with waist-high han­dle­bars — has forced the Austin Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment to ac­cel­er­ate plans to reg­u­late dock­less bikes and scoot­ers. The city had ex­pected to be­gin a pilot pro­gram this sum­mer, and sev­eral com­pa­nies rent­ing two-wheeled ve­hi­cles had de­layed en­ter­ing the Austin mar­ket while the city crafted rules.

“The city code is out­dated and does not specif­i­cally cite dock­less mo­bil­ity op­tions ... per­tain­ing to right of way use,” Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment Di­rec­tor Robert Spil­lar said in a memo Mon­day to the City Coun­cil. “In or­der to fore­stall a pre­dictable and un­man­age­able swamp­ing of our streets with thou­sands of ve­hi­cles, (the depart­ment) rec­om­mends a more nim­ble re­sponse than our pre­vi­ously ex­pressed pilot time frame.”

The coun­cil’s Mo­bil­ity Com­mit­tee, at a Tues­day meet­ing, will con­sider an ordinance that would beef up city laws hav­ing to do with block­ing side­walks and streets, and com­mer­cial use of city right of way.

That eight-page ordinance would bar busi­nesses from al­low­ing the scoot­ers to park on a “street, al­ley or side­walk,” a ref­er­ence to Bird’s prac­tice of ar­rang­ing for host busi­nesses to be “nests.” The scoot­ers are gath­ered up each night, recharged and then placed early the next day at the hosts’ prop­er­ties, the com­pany says.

The pro­posed law would give the Austin trans­porta­tion di­rec­tor the au­thor­ity to bar a per­son or busi­ness from op­er­at­ing on city rights of way if the op­er­a­tions are de­ter­mined to be “detri­men­tal to safety and mo­bil­ity.”

Spil­lar rec­om­mends grant­ing six-month per­mits to dock­less com­pa­nies be­gin­ning May 1, with a fee of $30 per bike or scooter and a limit of 500 bikes or scoot­ers for each li­censed com­pany.

A vi­o­la­tion of the ordinance would be a Class C mis­de­meanor, pun­ish­able by a fine of as much as $500 under ex­ist­ing city code lan­guage, the pro­posal says.

That ordinance, as­sum­ing it

clears the Mo­bil­ity Com­mit­tee, could be con­sid­ered by the Cit y Coun­cil as soon as April 26.

The LimeBike app at midday Mon­day showed the scoot­ers sprin­kled from Travis Heights to the Univer­sity of Texas cam­pus. Two of the ve­hi­cles, black with bright green ac­cents, sat idle in front of Allen’s Boots on South Congress Av­enue about noon as two men whisked by on Bird scoot­ers. Within the next cou­ple of min­utes, four more Bird cus­tomers rolled by, il­lus­trat­ing LimeBike of­fi­cials’ con­cern that their com­peti­tor has got­ten a jump on them in the Austin mar­ket. An ex­ec­u­tive with Bird Rides Inc. said Mon­day that the com­pany wel­comes the cre­ation of a law per­mit­ting dock­less scooter op­er­a­tions and set­ting out pa­ram­e­ters for the new busi­nesses.

“They’ve ac­tu­ally been very cor­dial with us,” David Estrada, Bird’s chief le­gal of­fif­fi­cer and gov­ern­ment re­la­tions head, said of city of­fif­fi­cials. “They don’t have an ordinance on the books right now that deals with this type of ve­hi­cle. I think they do want to ac­com­mo­date us.”

Estrada de­clined to say with any speci­ficity how many scoot­ers it has on the streets now but said the flfleet is in the “sev­eral hun­dred range.”

LimeBike does not in­tend to put its rental bikes out on the street, of­fif­fi­cials said. City of­fif­fi­cials have said any com­pa­nies that put out dock­less rental bikes be­fore that pilot be­gins would be barred from par­tic­i­pat­ing in it.

The city said last week that through Thurs­day it had im­pounded 55 of Bird’s scoot­ers but then re­leased them to the com­pany with- out fifines. Over the week­end, the black-and-white scoot­ers were spot­ted through­out the South Congress en­ter­tain­ment district, on the street and on side­walks. Bird of­fif­fi­cials had said last week that they would try to have cus­tomers use and leave the scoot­ers only in the street.

“This is all about user ed­u­ca­tion,” Estrada said Mon­day. “It’s a brand-new sys­tem. Peo­ple haven’t done this.”

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Vince Ter­razas leads the way on his rented Bird Rides scooter while Paul Meluci and Krista Meluci fol­low on their LimeBike scoot­ers go­ing east on Sec­ond Street in down­town Austin on Mon­day. The oper­a­tion of the scoot­ers falls out­side cur­rent city code.

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