Hello Tech Bloc! Wanted to drop in with a brief update on our ongoing efforts to structure and advocate for e-scooter regulations that are innovation and industry friendly while balancing public safety needs and concerns. In plain English, we think they are a fabulous new way to get around and want to keep them here.
A Little Background:
As most know, e-scooters began zooming around downtown San Antonio this summer, beginning with Bird’s relocation of a portion of their Austin fleet to SA, quickly followed by Lime and local operator Blue Duck. To date, eight scooter companies have contacted city officials to inquire about operating in SA, and three have deployed scooters. How many e-scooters are there in SA as of this week? About 2,000.
To date, all of the scooter companies are operating without permits and guidelines. Why? Because San Antonio does not yet have a city-approved permit or regulatory rules set for e-scooter operators and drivers. But all of this is about to change very soon.
Staff for the City of San Antonio began gathering information and working on some initial regulations a few months ago in anticipation of e-scooter arrival. Tech Bloc was invited as a tech industry partner to sit at the table with City staff nearly every step of the way. We’ve been sharing our research and helping craft an initial draft regulatory structure over the past 3 months.
Because e-scooters deployments tend to concentrate in downtown corridors, the City staff with management authority over our downtown policies have largely led the development of the e-scooter regs. These include Assistant City Manager (and downtown city guru) Lori Houston (under the direction of City Manager Sheryl Sculley) along with her team at the Central City Development & Operations (CCDO) led by Director John Jacks. Lori, John and their teams have been very inclusive and collaborative with Tech Bloc and other stakeholders throughout this entire process, and their diligent work will benefit our tech industry, downtown and all San Antonians.
We’ve also met with and will continue to meet with the Mayor and many members of our City Council, chiefly transportation committee chair Rey Saldaña and members of his committee.
In addition to work with the City, Tech Bloc has been coordinating heavily with the three scooter operators currently in market (Bird, Lime, and Blue Duck) and their lobbyists. There are some innovative, friendly and terrific people working inside these scooter companies, and we’ve all worked together to help build what we think is the best regulatory approach for SA.
Tech Bloc’s Position on e-Scooter Regulation:
In June, Tech Bloc began a detailed legal review of e-scooter (dockless) ordinances in other communities with a focus on Dallas, Austin, Seattle and Chicago. Tech Bloc drafted an initial 5-page policy statement and line-by-line regulatory grid that we shared internally with city staff during our many working sessions. For their part, the City also researched other ordinances and conducted an online survey to gather public sentiment. All of this activity has netted to a summary Tech Bloc position that mirrors the city recommendations very closely, and is comprised of the following:
Who Can Operate a Scooter Company in SA?
Any scooter operator who obtains a permit from COSA and maintains their fee payments and operational requirements should be allowed to operate in SA for now. There should be no caps on number of vendors that would only create a politicized RFP and City award process for a select few.
What are the Fees?
COSA is allowed under law to recover new enforcement and permitting costs with a new fee structure for scooter companies. A small, 1-time permitting application fee is recommended, along with an annual per vehicle fee.
In order to allow for a flexible dockless transportation system in SA (one that is able to scale to meet demand and potentially provide substantial transportation options for a diversity of neighborhoods and areas), it is recommended that COSA not escalate annual per vehicle usage fees over the $20+/- level. Tech Bloc recommends a $15 annual fee per vehicle, and a larger annual permitting fee for operators should additional cost recovery dollars be needed.
What Scooter Fleet Size is Allowed?
There should be no caps on fleet size. Any attempt to apply caps to the number of operators or fleet size during this pilot period would be based on arbitrary numbers at this point. The dockless transportation market is new and evolving. It is advisable to make regulatory decisions based on real data flowing from free market operations vs. arbitrary and artificial government controls. Utilization and effective operations are only achieved at scale, and a diversity of supported zones is needed to increase transportation options and solutions for a significant quotient of our population, including traditionally underserved neighborhoods. As such, operators should be free to size their fleets to meet market demand. In exchange, operators should be required to participate in data sharing regarding usage of their fleet. City access to usage data will provide visibility into any “dumping” of underutilized or unused vehicles in the city, and provide hard data to apply in developing future cap levels should the City ever decide caps are needed. Limits on operators will create an overly politicized RFP selection process. The free market can do this work more effectively at less cost over time.
Who Can Ride?
Minimum age requirement should be 16 years of age. Many of the major scooter companies enforce an 18-year-old limit on usage of their application and require a valid drivers license. The insurance market (cost of liability insurance) has and will continue to push almost all scooter companies to an 18+ y/o cutoff for ridership.
Where Can They Ride?
Riders must utilize bike lanes when available. In the absence of a bike lane, riders should use their best judgment when deciding to use the street or sidewalk. If they use the sidewalk, they must maintain a 2-foot walk path for pedestrians.
There should be no geographic restrictions except for a very small number of sensitive areas (the Downtown Riverwalk and Alamo Plaza).
Where/How Can They Park?
Scooters should be parked on sidewalks near the curb inside the furniture and landscaping zones such that they still maintain a 3-foot walk path for pedestrians. Larger (7-8 foot) clearances should be maintained around bus stops, handicap ramps and commercial loading zones.
What Steps Should Be Taken to Ensure Safety?
Helmets cannot be required per state law. However, helmets should be encouraged through marketing and education by the scooter companies on their apps, along with safe driving information.
Drivers should be required to adhere to the same traffic requirements as required for bicycles with SAPD as the monitoring and enforcement arm.
Scooter should have basic lighting and rear reflectors for low light operation.
How Should We Enforce Parking?
COSA should ask citizens to use the existing 311 call and mobile services to report any misplaced vehicles in order to minimize the addition of city enforcement staff and costs.
Scooter companies should be given a 2-hour window for operators to respond to a 311 call or other reported vehicle location/operational violation involving a safety issue. A 24-hour response window should be required for other complaints
What Should Be Required of Scooter Companies?
Scooter companies must maintain a local fleet manager to respond to misplaced (inappropriately parked) scooters. They must share a summary of their fleet and usage data with COSA, and maintain their fee payments.
Assistant City Manager Lori Houston will present the initial staff regulatory recommendations to the Mayor and City Council during their “B” Session schedule for today (9/12/18) at 2 p.m.
The City is also convening a public hearing this evening (9/12/18) in the City Council Chambers beginning at 6 p.m. for interested members of the public. Those who wish to speak must register prior to 6 p.m. on Sept. 12. For full instructions, visit www.sanantonio.gov/CCDO/NewsAndEvents/PublicNotices.
It is anticipated that City Council will formally discuss and vote on the final regulations during their council meeting on Thursday, October 11, 2018.
Tech Bloc will continue to advocate for our industry position with Mayor, Council and city staff up and through the final vote.
Thank you again to all of our members for your Tech Bloc involvement and continued support!