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City cracks down on Lime scooters

Friday, November 30, 2018 by Ryan Thornton

In the same week that Parks and Recreation announced a controversial pilot program allowing electric bikes and scooters on several of the city’s most popular trails, the Austin Transportation Department has temporarily subtracted 1,000 scooters from the number of Lime’s authorized units due to violation of the city’s dockless mobility rules.

In a memo sent to City Council on Thursday, ATD Director Robert Spillar cited a safety issue created by an excess of 624 Lime scooters documented in addition to the 500 scooters permitted in the downtown Austin project coordination zone between Nov. 14 and Nov. 20 as the reason for the penalty.

Spillar said there is currently a sufficient number of scooters to meet demand and that the action should not negatively impact Austin residents.

After Lime failed to respond to warnings from ATD about the violations, the company received a Notice of Fleet Reduction from ATD on Tuesday, Nov. 27, immediately cutting its fleet allowance from 5,000 to 4,000 for a minimum of 30 days. ATD says it may lift the suspension after 30 days if Lime is in good standing with the city.

In an effort to prevent too many scooters from flooding downtown and to ensure mobility options are also available in the surrounding areas, Austin has limited the number of dockless units allowed in the downtown zone extending between Oltorf Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from south to north and between MoPac Expressway and Chicon Street and Interstate 35 from west to east. While Lime was previously authorized to deploy a total of 5,000 scooters in Austin, 4,500 of those were required to be deployed outside the downtown zone. At this point, none of the other electric scooter companies operating in Austin have been penalized for exceeding the number of allowed units.

Lime spokesperson Sam Sadle said Austin’s geography-based restrictions led to an accidental violation of the rules but that it will not impact the future of Lime’s presence in Austin.

“Austin is one of a handful of cities with caps and unique in its caps based on geographic areas,” said Sadle. “Due to extremely high demand from users, we had an unintentional over-deployment of scooters downtown. We have worked around the clock to fix it, and look forward to continuing to work with the city of Austin.”

Sadle praised Austinites for embracing the company’s scooters by “riding over a million times since June.”

In addition to safety, Lime’s violation is also a matter of equity, according to Spillar. “Our goal is to create a safe, equitable, fair and transparent mobility environment for everyone,” Spillar said. “This includes working to ensure that dockless mobility units are distributed equitably across the city in order to serve the mobility needs of people in as many parts of Austin as possible.”

Lime is one of six dockless scooter operators in Austin and was licensed to deploy more units than any other scooter company prior to the fleet reduction. With the 1,000-unit suspension, Lime is now allowed the same number of units as rival company Bird.

Regulations regarding dockless mobility are available on the city’s website.

Photo by Tony Webster made available through a Creative Commons license.

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