City Council Kicks Scooters Off The Curb
May 30, 2019 - Municipal Plaza Building, Downtown San Antonio
Article By: Jonathan Guajardo - Editor, SA Sentinel
Rain-covered electric scooters laid in mangled heaps on the sidewalks leading up to the Municipal Plaza building. While pedestrians sidestepped to avoid the inevitable consequence of the city’s newest and most controversial form of multimodal transportation, the city council convened in an A-Session meeting to discuss the future of dockless vehicles in San Antonio.
Number of Dockless Vehicles Per Company
The topic had been swirling around the city for months, polarizing citizens in a way reminiscent of the April 18th Chick-fil-a decision, with people either loving the scooters or hating them. So, as the city council members filed into the chambers for their weekly A-Session meeting, they all knew that there would be definite ramifications for their actions that day.
The main problem facing the council concerned whether electric scooters should be allowed on the sidewalks with pedestrians, as well as whether to reduce the number of scooter companies operating within the city limits. First, the council addressed the issue of the reduction of the number of companies. With seven dockless vehicle companies currently operating within San Antonio, the council had to face a vote dealing with whether to restrict the number of organizations from 7 to 3. Most council members were in agreement that something needed to be done to address the 16,100 dockless vehicles (both scooters and bikes) scattered throughout the city.
Operator safety also arose as a main point of discussion towards the start of the A-session, with some council members stating that they would like to see more incentives to encourage riders to wear helmets when operating dockless vehicles.” Personally, I think we should require helmets,” stated Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who later suggested that the companies bidding to remain in the city should present plans to incentivize helmet usage among riders. She also argued that the issue of adopting a curfew for dockless vehicles be revisited as a matter of safety, but later remarked that if the city is really concerned with safety, then we should be prioritizing helmet usage more.
District 9 Councilman John Courage and District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran both raised their concerns about the proposal not limiting riders to street usage until October 2019. Assistant City Manager Lori Houston responded by stating that the city would need more time to adequately educate the populace on the new restriction, which was the initial rationale behind not enacting the sidewalk ban until the Fall. Unconvinced, Courage recommended that scooters and other dockless vehicles be banned from city sidewalks effective June 30th.
“This last discussion really disturbs me,” said Courage. “I think the safety factor is very clear.” The District 9 councilman later made a motion to add the new effective date for sidewalk restrictions to the ordinance. The amendment was seconded and the new effective date was added to the item for voting.
Councilman Roberto Treviño later addressed Lori Houston’s concerns about not having an adequate amount of time to educate the public before enacting these new rules. He recommended that the council set a “grace period” whereby violators of these new rules wouldn’t face fines for sheer lack of regulatory knowledge. With violations set to run anywhere between $100 and $500, he argued that his recommendation would help the city proceed with the ordinance in a more equitable manner.
Towards the end of the meeting, Mayor Ron Nirenberg chimed in, stating that he supports moving scooters off the sidewalk and that he hopes the city can “continue to hone in on the fact that this city needs better multimodal infrastructure.” He later voiced his support for the RFP and the amendment made by Councilman Courage earlier in the meeting requiring operators to stay off sidewalks by June 30th, but noted that he shares the concerns of Councilwoman Sandoval involving the strict overnight curfew, mainly due to a desire to make them available for workers at downtown locales who need access to a safe form of transportation.
The Mayor’s comments were followed by a nearly-unanimous vote. The council decided 9-1 to begin the process of reducing the number of scooter companies from 7 to 3, regulating the speed for scooters to 15 MPH, slashing the number of dockless vehicles to 5,000 by October 2019, and restricting scooters from all sidewalk travel by June 30th.