Bird scooters return to Austin after being pulled from the streets

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For a few weeks in April, scooters descended on the city of Austin as a number of companies put electric transportation on the streets.

Then, overnight, they vanished after the city passed emergency regulations related to permitting on April 27.

Now at least some of them are back.

Bird, one of the first companies to release a fleet in Austin, announced that service resumed Wednesday. The company currently has permission to operate up to 500 scooters.

“Bird has a network trained chargers and mechanics ready to go in Austin. Each night, Birds are picked up for storage, charging, and any necessary repair,” a spokesperson for Bird explained in an email, saying that these staff members help to keep the scooters from cluttering sidewalks.  

The Texas Capitol asked Bird to not have people ride or park nearby, so the scooters are not allowed on Capitol grounds and the app has been educating riders about the specifics since mid-April. 

Under Austin’s new ordinance, scooters have to be permitted or they will be impounded. The scooters will also all have a sticker which indicates sample scooters from that group have been tested and that the company who owns the scooters paid any fines owed to the city. 

Starting in August, the vehicles will also have to be locked down to something.

They’ll also need to have a reminder-system within the app or the vehicle itself to promote good behavior, like parking in the right location.

These companies have to report their bike usage numbers to the transportation department and if a device is not being used two times a day, the city is at liberty to ask the company to remove it.

Bird owed the city of Austin $29,000 in violations from when the city’s emergency ordinance went into effect and LimeBike owed the city around $15,000 for violations.

The companies will need to remain in good standing to keep their permits with the city. The city has the right to cancel any permits if the companies don’t follow through, but the transportation department says they hope to do everything possible to make sure all parties have a cooperative relationship 

Austin designed its regulations after hearing directly from cities like San Francisco and Seattle about the challenges they’d experienced, like scooters being parked improperly or left where people are walking and driving.

While scooters were in the area, the University of Texas Police Department received numerous complaints and warned many people about unsafe riding.

“How we avoid that is to really provide people with some expectations for where they can and a can’t go, so in our rules we have designated areas and we’ve asked companies to make sure they really communicate that to their users,” explained Laura Dierenfield, division manager for the city’s active transportation and street design. 

“It’s cool to see that they’re back,” said Sean Callahan, a bike courier in Austin. “I think its really healthy for people to get outside, find another form of transportation other than a car.”

Callahan is hoping that Austinites take care of the scooters on the streets. 

“I’d like to think the people in Austin are pretty cool and chill and don’t want to give a bad experience for someone who’s just trying to do something with scooters,” he said.  

Bird will typically give $1 per scooter per day to the city they’re in to support improvements for things like bike lanes.

But as the city of Austin could not accept the money, Bird will donate instead to Movability, an Austin-based Transportation Management Association that helps coordinate public and private sector mobility options.

“I even did it and I’ve never been on a scooter in my life, I had to have a millennial help me,” laughed Lisa Kay Pfannenstiel, executive director of Movability, which is a member-based nonprofit.

Movability works with several employers to get employees around and to eliminate congestion in the city. She explained that Bird called her this week and told her about their donation plan. 

“I feel very honored, we’re always looking for a variety of solutions to decrease congestion and this is just one piece of the puzzle,” she said. 

Kay Pfannenstiel said that her nonprofit doesn’t vouch for any particular policy, rather they support anything that improves Austin congestion and gives people more options to link up with mass transit. 

On Monday, dockless bike company Pace rolled out their bikes in Austin. The city says Pace and Bird are the only two programs that have gotten permits so far under the new process. These permits are up for renewal after six months. 

Pace began the week with 60 bikes and will have 150 by the end of the week. By the end of summer, the plan to have 500 bikes. 

“As these devices roll out and we find out more information about the patterns of usage, we’ll be deploying more parking areas in response,” explained Jesse Duncan, a street designer with the Austin Transportation Department. 

ATD said it has been challenging working with the sudden influx of these publicly accessible, privately run vehicles.

But they also see these scooters and bikes as an opportunity to solve what they call “the last mile problem”: getting Austinites transportation on the last stretch of their commute from a bus stop or train station to their home. 

This week the city placed 5 marked parking areas downtown for the scooters to show people the best spots to park the devices. 

“Just consider whenever you park this device, is this going to interrupt anyone else’s trip? Is it going to get in their way? Are they going to trip over it?” Duncan advised.

If you see problems with the scooters or how they’re used, the city wants to keep track as well, they ask you to report what you experience to 311.

The city even developed a code of ethics for the use of these dockless vehicles: ​

​​​​​​1. Pedestrians First – People operating bicycles and scooters shall yield to pedestrians on sidewalks.
2. Parking Responsibly – Units shall be parked in a secure upright position only in designated areas.
3. Stay on Right of Way –  Users should not take units to areas where they are not authorized to operate, such as private property, parkland, state-owned land or other unauthorized areas.
4. Know What You’re Sharing – Users have access to dockless mobility services without having to share Personally Identifiable Information and have the opportunity to Opt-In to sharing this information only after getting clear information about what type of information will be shared.
5. Right and Report – If you see a unit toppled over or parked improperly; help out by righting the unit and reporting the issue via 311.

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