AUSTIN (KXAN) — For more than 20 years, motorized vehicles haven’t been allowed on city parkland. It’s a rule the city hasn’t had to enforce often until now, as they’ve seen an increase in scooters and motorized bikes, especially on the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake.
After several injuries and concerns, Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department says it’s cracking down on motorized vehicles.
“Whether it’s an e-bike or a scooter, they go anywhere from 15 miles per hour to 25 miles an hour. We’ve seen some incidences already of even the person using the scooter getting injured as well as injuring someone,” said Ricardo Soliz, the acting assistant director for Parks and Recreation.
Soliz explained that city park rangers have reported several crashes leading to minor injuries on the hike and bike trail as well as one at Republic Square that required medical attention. While the ordinance banning motorized vehicles impacts all parklands, Soliz said most of the incidents the city has heard about occur on the hike and bike trail.
The increase in incidents and questions from the public has led the city to start a campaign before anyone else gets hurt. Soliz said that from now until July 15, Parks and Recreation will make a push to make sure people are aware of the rules.
“We needed to make sure we communicated that sooner rather than later,” he said, adding that many people may simply be unaware of the ordinance. Parks and Recreation said the rule is there foremost to keep pedestrians and cyclists using the trail safe, but it is also in place to help preserve the trail itself.
There are a few exceptions to this city ordinance. People with disabilities are allowed to ride Segways to get around parks, however, the city does not allow groups of Segways or Segway social outings in the parks.
Electric scooters come to town
Austinites have been seeing increasing numbers of these scooters since late May as more and more companies are getting approved to operate their own vehicles under the city’s new permitting process. For a few weeks in April, these dockless bikes and scooters made their debut in Austin, but when the city passed emergency dockless vehicle ordinance all of those new bikes and scooters disappeared.
In August these companies will have to comply with additional requirements, including locking mechanisms for their vehicles.
According to Austin’s Transportation Department, these are the companies permitted to operate dockless vehicles currently in the city:
- Zagster (Pace): 500 bikes
- Bird Rides: 500 scooters
- GOAT Labs: 20 scooters
- Lime: 500 scooters
- OFO US Limited: 333 bikes
- SPIN: 1 scooter
- JUMP: 250 bikes
That leaves a total number of 1,021 scooters and 1,083 bikes permitted in Austin, though the transportation department noted the actual number of bikes on the road may fluctuate.
Reminding people of the rules
ATD said the city has not revoked permits for any of these companies so far. These permits are up for renewal every six months. All companies that received a permit have to follow Austin’s Dockless Mobility Code of Ethics, which requires them to have visible wording telling users where they are not allowed to ride vehicles (including city parks, state-owned land and private property). When KXAN downloaded the Bird scooter app Monday, we saw wording reminding users of this, but it was difficult to see because of the formatting on the screen.
Soliz explained that Parks and Recreation has rangers who will issue warnings and educate riders about the rules, but they will call Austin Police when they see repeat offenders or need to issue citations.
Regulars on the hike and bike trail like Glenn Neal have noticed this increase in dockless vehicles.
“The scooters are moving quickly, they are moving well beyond the speed of most bicycles and people walking and running,” said Neal, an Austinite who has been using the hike and bike trail for 25 years. Neal added that he’s not only seen motorized vehicles run by companies in the past month, he said he’s also seen an increase in what he believes to be personal motorized vehicles like skateboards on the trail.
“We have to balance out the needs of people to get around in a town that is very congested with the safety considerations on the trail,” he said, adding that he thinks that dockless vehicles could be a very important transportation option in this growing city.
Neal said he has written to parks and recreation to ask for more visible signage about the rule banning motorized vehicles on the trail. Parks and Recreation said they have some temporary signs in the works and hope to get them installed in the coming week.
But while Neal is a longtime Austinite, he knows the city is welcoming in many newcomers who aren’t aware of the rules and probably just need to be reminded by the city.
“Enforcement is only part of the equation, the other part of that is education,” Neal noted.