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Bird Dockless scooters

Parking, recklessness among scooter concerns for city’s disability committee

Friday, September 21, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Amid concerns over the safety of people in wheelchairs and the visually impaired, the Mayor’s Committee for People With Disabilities pressed the Austin Transportation Department to take steps soon to improve the behavior of users of rentable motorized scooters, and the companies that have put roughly 4,300 of those units around downtown Austin.

The committee’s concerns came largely from an ongoing issue of the scooters and other dockless mobility units winding up parked in pedestrian rights of way after users finish riding them, creating an assortment of safety and access issues for pedestrians with disabilities. The term “flagrant interferences with access” was used several times throughout the meeting as committee members joined others in the community who have expressed frustration since a handful of dockless mobility companies set up shop in Austin in late spring.

The committee opted to delay until next month a resolution to request that City Council step in and consider firm measures to enforce the city’s recently passed ordinance that covers those vehicles. That decision came in part because the city is still finalizing the rules for enforcement of the ordinance, with an initial set of rules expected to be released before the end of the month.

Staff from ATD said representatives from the scooter companies active in Austin are working with the city to address parking issues along with speed, recklessness and use of sidewalks instead of bike lanes by riders.

“Like any new mode of transportation, when it’s introduced into a marketplace there’s a learning curve that has to take place for both the people who use that mode as well as the people who are interfacing with those who are using it,” said Jason JonMichael, assistant director of smart mobility for ATD. “Dockless mobility has shed some light and raised the tide when it comes to the friction we have in our active transportation landscape in Austin. That’s good medicine because it allows the city to look at how people are moving around in a shared and active format.”

Possible remedies for the improper parking problem include the provider companies installing technology requiring users to take a photograph of their unit properly parked before they can close their rental charges, or allowing concerned citizens to send a photo of an infringing unit directly to the proper company so they can have the scooter moved.

Currently the city’s involvement in the issue is limited to calls to 311, which on average results in a four-hour turnaround time to pass the relevant information to the right scooter company to have it correct the problem. Fines for blocking access to sidewalks are currently limited to a class C misdemeanor with a $530 fine plus a possible impound and holding fee for the company that owns the offending scooter, though JonMichael said the city is looking at options for fining offending users directly.

With respect to the speed and bike lane issues, the companies in Austin are examining use of geolocation technology to remotely limit speeds.

Committee members also pushed the ATD representatives to make sure their forthcoming public education campaign on scooter safety also includes information on the impact of leaving a scooter parked carelessly on the people with disabilities trying to navigate public sidewalks.

“I don’t understand all the time and energy we have to spend on something that should just happen. We’re talking another six months of waiting on rules and regulations for something that shouldn’t have to be this way,” Committee Member Chris Masey said. “I have pushed many of those things out of the way, sometimes forcibly. … If there’s an integration where all these companies are talking to the people that are impacted beforehand, then everything else goes a little better.”

Photo by Caleb Pritchard.

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