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After two dockless scooter companies launch in Austin, city speeds up rule process

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Jumping the gun works, it seems.

While city staff was devising a pilot program to govern dockless bikes and scooters, expecting to bring a proposal to Council members in June, two companies dropped their electric scooters throughout the city. Now the Austin Transportation Department has proposed fast-tracking approval of the pilot program.

In a memo sent to the mayor and City Council members yesterday, Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar suggested the city vote on a six-month program to begin May 1. The program would limit each company to 500 dockless vehicles, charge them $30 per vehicle and require them to share certain data with the city.

LimeBike, which is based in San Mateo, California, unleashed 200 of the company’s black and white scooters in Austin yesterday. Similar scooters were introduced earlier this month by Santa Monica, California-based Bird.

“In order to forestall a predictable and unmanageable swamping of our streets with thousands of vehicles, ATD recommends a more nimble response than our previously expressed pilot timeframe,” Spillar wrote in his memo.

In February, Council members approved a pilot program for dockless bikes; the Transportation Department later added scooters. The department was in the middle of collecting public feedback on the program when the companies brought their scooters to Austin.

In a letter to city officials, LimeBike said the city’s refusal to shut down Bird’s scooters, which began roving around Austin on April 5, compelled LimeBike to launch early.

“It now is apparent that our competitor will be allowed to operate without any significant repercussions,” wrote Toby Sun, co-founder and CEO of LimeBike, and Sam Sadle, director of strategic development for Texas.

Yesterday, Bird and LimeBike scooters could be found parked all over the University of Texas campus. At times they were lined up neatly in a row; at other times, single scooters were parked next to rows of bike racks.

“I think they’re awesome, honestly because I’m lazy and don’t like to sweat,” said Jena Georgopulos, who was heading to class on one of the Bird scooters. “Also, I’m late a lot of the time, so I need to be fast. So I think it’s really convenient.”

The city has starting impounding the dockless scooters, saying they violate city code if they’re left obstructing sidewalks or roads for 48 hours. As of Friday, the city had impounded 55 scooters.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photos by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT.

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