E-scooters in Austin must lock to bike rack or have geo-fencing tech

Austin

Just a month ago, scooters had taken over downtown Austin. Zipping in and out of traffic and strewn on sidewalks across the area. But just soon as they took over the area they were gone after the city cracked down and passed an ordinance outlining rules for them.

Now, the companies behind the dockless devices may have more rules to deal with. 

On Monday, City Manager Spencer Cronk adopted emergency rules set forward by the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) for all dockless devices including scooters and bicycles.

A total of 10 pages lay out the rules discussing everything from the service area, size of fleet, insurance, performance bond and fees, customer service and parking.

“This isn’t just about scooters, this is about the future of transportation,” said Austin-based dockless scooter company ‘GOAT’ owner Michael Schramm.

And, although these devices are meant to be dockless, one of the rules states that all dockless units “shall be capable of being locked to a bike rack or shall be equipped with haptic technology that indicates to the user if they have parked in a designated, geo-fenced parking area.”

The city wants that implemented by Aug. 1.

The city also wants companies to provide customer service centers in Austin, collect monthly “aggregate customer demographic data gathered by the system application, anonymized to protect Personal Identifiable Information” and provide services for those without a smartphone.

“Throughout the rules, I think there’s a lot of stuff that we agree with,” said Schramm. “There are some things from the technology perspective that we would absolutely change.”

One company, Bird, said in a statement it’s looking forward to working with the city but acknowledges “some of the rules will be difficult to implement.”

And LimeBike said in a statement it is also looking forward to working with the city but says “the regulations put forth would severely limit Lime’s ability to serve the community.” Both companies say they hope to return to the streets soon. 

NetChoice, a trade association of eCommerce and online businesses, says the rules would make it “nearly impossible for dockless bike providers to run a viable service for city residents.”

“If Austin had the choice back when they started their docked bike-sharing system, the city would surely have chosen dockless over docked bikes,” said Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice.  “The ATD proposal flies in the face of good city planning and customer service. Dockless systems are far less expensive to implement, and serve residents in neighborhoods that are never going to get a docking platform.”

“At the end of the day, this is really going to be a lot of involvement with the city,” said Schramm. “I fully expect these rules to change but this is a collaborative effort, nothing on day one is perfect.”

On Friday, the Austin Transportation Department is set to meet with the companies who want to do business in town. On Monday, May 14, ATD will make applications available. ATD says the applications may take anywhere from two to three days to be processed, once processed companies are allowed to start operating. 

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