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How scooters go the way of taxis

Friday, May 17, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

The Austin Transportation Department’s proposed franchise model for dockless mobility companies was up for debate again at Tuesday’s Urban Transportation Commission meeting. With the franchise model largely failing the city’s taxicab industry and leaving it vulnerable to the recent takeover by ride-share companies like Lyft and Uber, commissioners and members of the public alike had lots of questions about the need to imitate that model with a burgeoning new industry like dockless electric scooters. Parking enterprise manager Jason Redfern argued the franchise model will let the city maximize operator fees above the city’s cost of service in order to fill in the infrastructural gaps that will ultimately enhance the safety and experience of dockless users. Despite this prediction of added revenue, Commissioner Samuel Franco questioned what will be done differently from the taxi model to allow for competition that can strengthen the dockless market in Austin so it can be most effective. Mobility enthusiast Dan Keshet agreed that some of ATD’s language – like requiring new dockless operators to prove they are filling an existing need in the market – could have the effect of keeping newer innovators out of Austin and effectively safeguarding the profits of more established providers. But Redfern emphasized that the goal is to remain open to new mobility services as they enter the market while ensuring that demand is sufficient for new units added to Austin’s streets. Commissioners also took issue with the legal requirement that new operators entering a regulated franchise would each need to be approved by City Council, creating an additional barrier to dockless innovation. Redfern said ATD “would have loved” to be able to permit operators administratively but it wouldn’t legally be possible if the franchise model is adopted. He added that any limitations imposed on the numbers of operators or dockless units allowed in the city should be temporary until the city is able to use operator fees to further build out dockless parking areas and paths for safer use.

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