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Figures show Austinites love and hate scooters

Thursday, September 20, 2018 by Jack Craver

Members of Austin City Council have plenty of concerns about the operation of dockless vehicles, particularly electric scooters. But they all appear to agree that the vehicles are here to stay, if for no other reason than they have proved wildly popular.

In July, people in Austin took 137,000 trips on dockless vehicles. The vast majority (129,200) were on scooters, with the remaining 8,400 on dockless bikes, both regular and electric.

There are now over 3,500 licensed scooters in the city. According to data collected in July, the average scooter trip lasted 16 minutes and was 1.29 miles long.

“It’s safe to say that these are very, very, very popular,” said Jason JonMichael, an assistant director for Austin Transportation Department in charge of smart mobility, at the Tuesday Council work session.

In contrast, Austin B-cycle, the nonprofit bike-sharing service with 63 stations around downtown, generated about 20,740 trips in July.

JonMichael acknowledged that the new devices have no shortage of critics. A survey that the city put out on dockless vehicles received more than 9,500 responses, with respondents split 50/50 on whether they viewed the devices favorably.

Despite the frequent anecdotes about reckless scooterists, so far there have been very few injuries attributed to scooters. Between May 7 and Sept. 6, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services only reported 28 injuries involving scooters and no fatalities.

During that same period there were 1,945 people injured and eight people killed in cars, while 91 pedestrians were injured and 12 killed by cars. JonMichael still stressed that the department is taking scooter safety seriously, and is planning to deploy an army of city staffers to the streets to educate riders on proper scooter etiquette.

The city should also do what it can to increase awareness among drivers about sharing the road with other modes of transportation, such as bikes and scooters.

Council members were curious about what guidelines or rules the city is providing on proper scootering. For now, the city is treating the scooters like bicycles, in that they are allowed on both the street and the sidewalk, although it’s obviously preferred for bikers and scooter riders to use bike lanes whenever possible.

Mayor Steve Adler noted that Los Angeles’ scooter ordinance forbids riding them on sidewalks, while Denver’s rules conversely bars their use on roads.

“In classic Austin fashion, everyone seems to have a strong opinion on this,” said Adler.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo’s Central Austin district, which includes downtown and the University of Texas campus, has far more scooter-riding than any other. It also has far more scooter-related complaints. In July, the city’s 311 center fielded 417 calls about scooters, 284 of which came from District 9 residents. There was only one scooter-related complaint in Council Member Delia Garza’s Southeast Austin District 2.

Tovo said that the scooter companies themselves should “bear some of the responsibility” of educating riders on proper use. She’s concerned about reckless scootering on sidewalks.

Council Member Ora Houston said that she’s worried about scooters blocking the way on sidewalks, making it particularly hard for people in wheelchairs to get by.

JonMichael said that the two main scooter companies, Bird and Lime, are making efforts to educate their users, including by crowdsourcing or, in his words, “crowdshaming.” The Lime app asks users to take a photo of how their scooter is parked and then asks other users to rate the parking job.

One of the companies, he said, is planning to deploy a crew of 30 uniformed employees tasked with identifying and correcting bad scooter behavior.

The current rules are only in place as part of a pilot program. City staff is in the process of drafting proposed permanent regulations to submit for Council’s approval.

This story has been corrected. We originally reported that B-Cycle had 10,000 July trips with 76 stations. In fact, the company reported 20,740 trips in July, with 63 stations and 470 bikes in circulation.

Photo by Grendelkhan [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

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