Can Austin learn to navigate the ever-changing world of disruptive transportation? A few months ago, practically overnight, the city of Austin was flooded with a plague of electric scooters. They were everywhere — littering the sidewalks, piled in the grass at parks, zipping past out the window. Everyone was using them, and no one was wearing a helmet. Because of their precipitous arrival, the scooters were able to operate without regulation, turning the streets around the UT campus and downtown into a wild west of convenient motorized transport.
On April 26 the city council voted to tie in the scooters to an existing ordinance, prohibiting the vehicles from blocking right-of-way. The city had originally planned to launch a pilot program later in the year, but Bird and Lime, the two initial scooter companies, launched without warning. Emergency rules were officially adopted on May 8.
The emergency rules, which run 10 pages long, lay out strict conditions for the dockless companies to operate within the city. One provision states that by August 1, the scooters must be able to be attached to traditional bike racks or indicate that they are parked in an acceptable location. The city also states that scooters must be equipped with a light if the companies plan to operate them at night. Some of the companies operating in Austin currently pick up their scooters at dusk and return them to the streets in the morning. Others have stated that the requirements are too strict, making it difficult for them to continue operations in the city.
The scooters are not a problem exclusive to Austin — they’ve also been installed in cities like Seattle and San Francisco. In San Francisco, protestors have recently used the dockless scooters to build barricades blocking the paths of tech company shuttles.
Bird scooters returned to the city at the end of May, nearly as omnipresent as they were immediately after their initial launch. Zagster, a bike-share company, also launched at the end of May.
Standard rules for operation are expected to be released in July.