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Austin Transportation to set per-trip fee for dockless vehicles

Tuesday, December 17, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

The Austin Transportation Department’s dockless mobility program has decided on a per-trip vehicle fee that could result in an annual revenue boost of around $800,000.

In a Dec. 10 memorandum, Robert Spillar, director of transportation, said the department has decided a 15-cent per-trip regulatory fee for dockless vehicles like e-scooters is a “reasonable and practical” requirement that will feed directly back into the shared mobility program. The fee will be charged to dockless mobility providers.

According to a spokesperson for the Transportation Department, the money will be used primarily to make sure the dockless program is financially sustainable. Specifically, the department anticipates using the money to hire dedicated staff to regulate and monitor the program – with efforts like dedicated parking enforcement – so existing staffers can focus on their primary tasks.

City Council gave direction during this year’s budget process to create the fees, authorizing a per-trip fee of up to 40 cents. After individual meetings with each shared mobility provider, the department arrived at the 15-cent figure.

The fee will be stacked onto the existing $30 biannual per-vehicle licensing fee. There are currently no per-trip fees for dockless vehicles.

In May, Council approved a change in city code to include dockless vehicles in the city’s regulations of traffic rules for bicycles. At the same time, Council delayed action on a proposed change that would have created a franchise model for dockless mobility. In addition to ensuring reliability and stability in the market, the Transportation Department had proposed the model as a way to charge franchise fees that could be used to pay for the active transportation infrastructure necessary to make dockless mobility a safer option.

Since then, however, the department has decided not to pursue the franchise model. “We believe (the existing) framework has worked well and that any major changes might distress a still immature industry,” Spillar wrote in the memo.

The department says this fee, on the other hand, will actually reduce operational friction, making it easier for new and innovative mobility options and providers to enter the dockless marketplace.

The fee will be set early next year in a revision to last year’s Director Rules for Deployment and Operation of Shared Small Vehicle Mobility Systems.

Some of the revenue may also be used for programmatic costs like additional software for more efficient management. The department said there’s a chance some of that money could be used to fund active transportation infrastructure like designated parking boxes for e-scooters, depending on how the program evolves and how much revenue is generated.

The city has currently permitted up to 16,250 dockless devices and over 500 larger shared vehicles in the city. So far in 2019, there have been around 5.3 million dockless trips taken in Austin. At current ridership levels, the 15-cent fee could create over $800,000 in annual funds for the program.

When the revised Director Rules are posted next year, the department plans to include a number of additional revisions. These will limit the number of devices deployed on any side of a single block, expand “dockless” to include all types of shared mobility vehicles, modify service zones and boundaries, and levy additional penalties for providers that don’t comply with dockless regulations.

Photo by Anthony Quintano made available through a Creative Commons license.

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