Monday, March 11, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

City to consider franchise model for dockless mobility

Austin Transportation has been steadily slowing the stream of dockless units coming into the city and is now considering a 50 percent cut to the number of dockless mobility operators licensed to deploy their scooters and bikes.

In a presentation to the Pedestrian Advisory Council on March 4, Jason Redfern, Parking Enterprise Division manager, and Jake Culberson, acting Mobility Services Division manager, explained that the decision could lower the number of licensed operators in the city from 10 to five, limiting the market to those who best demonstrate competence while providing a greater market share for those select vendors.

Redfern and Culberson said the program would essentially imitate the city’s taxicab franchise model, strengthening each individual operator by limiting competition and allowing more resources to be put into the service being provided.

By cutting the number of operators in half, each would be permitted to deploy more units to compensate for the resulting gap. Redfern said the number of dockless units on the streets would be similar to the current figure.

“We’re right at about carrying capacity right now, I believe, at the 17,000 number,” Redfern said. “There may be room for a few more units to be authorized, it just depends on what their usage was like and how many rides per device and what kind of demand we’re seeing. It’s possible they could rise if the demand is higher and the conditions are right.”

Culberson added that the city requires vendors to justify their fleet sizes by maintaining a per-unit average of two rides per day, ensuring supply increases proportionally with demand.

Jay Blazek Crossley, chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Council, said that specific mandate may address the problem of having too many units downtown but ignores the fact that “vast areas of town don’t have access” to dockless bikes and scooters.

PAC alternate Tom Wald agreed with Crossley that there aren’t enough dockless units in the parts of the city where they are most needed. “I know I may sound crazy, but as a user I have a hard time finding them,” he said. He acknowledged that in parts of downtown he may be able to locate “15 within 100 feet,” but said that doesn’t apply to the majority of major streets outside of the urban core.

Though the city limits the number of units permitted in the downtown Austin project coordination zone to prevent downtown clutter and ensure units are available in other parts of the city, Redfern said those units aren’t necessarily distributed evenly across town. Rather, he said, vendors apply for deployment rights in specific areas where they believe there is sufficient demand.

While the franchise model would make regulation easier on the city, Redfern and Culberson did not clearly articulate the overall effect, if any, it would have on the availability of units across the city or the quality of the service provided.

Transportation staff will be presenting the proposed dockless franchise model to City Council on March 28. The proposal is one of four strategies to improve dockless mobility in Austin by creating clearer regulations for appropriate use and smoothing out the details in city code and in the agreements with dockless operators.

Photo by Luis Tamayo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Pedestrian Advisory Council: A citizen council that reviews and recommends initiatives for walking in the city.

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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