AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austinites will soon have yet another type of electric scooter to choose from as they commute around city streets, OjO has been approved by the city to bring 100 of its sit-down commuter-style scooters to Austin.
Oxnard, California-based OjO announced Tuesday that it will bring its scooters to Austin in a partnership with Austin Commuter Scooter LLC., a subsidiary of Bike Share Austin, the operator of Austin B Cycle. ACS will oversee the deployment of this fleet of scooters in Texas which is set to happen Feb. 1.
Austin will be the first city to receive OjO scooters (and yes, it’s pronounced oh-Joe).
In a release, OjO explained that riders can stand or sit on these scooters which it says are built for bike lanes and streets, “off sidewalks and away from pedestrians.” These scooters can go up to 20 miles per hour, which puts them on par with the Lime scooters already in Austin and within Austin’s city regulations. OjO said it has the ability to control speeds and geo fence locations. These scooters run on a 48 volt lithium ion battery that allows them to run for up to 50 miles on a full charge.
“You can go a little bit faster than the kick scooters that we see on the street,” said Elliot McFadden, executive director of Bike Share of Austin, said these scooters aim to make scooter riding accessible to more people with the option to sit down and to carry things in a basket on the back.
KXAN asked him, does Austin really need another scooter company?
“I think you can ask whether we need another kick scooter company,” he responded, “[the OjO scooter] is a totally different thing”
“You’re seated. Your center of gravity is much more comfortable,” McFadden said. “So we think for folks who are a little hesitant to get on the kick scooters, this is going to be a much more accessible product.”
McFadden’s company also runs Austin B-Cycle, the public bike share system that’s been around since 2013. He explained that since electric bikes and scooters descended on Austin over the past year, downtown ridership of the non-electric B-Cycles has dropped 40-50%.
B-Cycle has added some electric vehicles and may consider adding more. McFadden sees this partnership with OjO as another way to adapt to the changing market.
“When we look at these new products like e-bikes, what we’re finding is folks want to move to the next level, they want to look at electric vehicles and that’s why we want to add them in as another option because that’s another way to gain more ridership,” McFadden said.
He added that because Bike Share of Austin is an already existing local nonprofit, they have staff and vehicles to collect the scooters people are finished using for the day.
“We intend to bring a professionalism and a level of service that I don’t think we’ve been seeing with the contractors and people making an extra five bucks on the side,” he said.
These scooters have a live feed for data transmission which OjO and ACS will use to share data on scooter use and ride trends.
Additionally, the OjO scooters have speakers on board which can allow users to opt for navigation, traffic alerts, construction zone alerts and speed reduction alerts. They also allow users to connect via Bluetooth and play stored or streaming music on the speakers.
The release from OjO notes that the two companies will work to figure out which neighborhoods to deploy these scooters, though the Austin Transportation Department noted that for now the company is only approved in the downtown area right now.
To ride, but not on the hike and bike trail
A promotional photo from the company shows a scooter parked on a portion of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. Current city Parks and Recreation Code bans motorized vehicles and devices from being driven on public recreational areas (other than a public roadway or in the parking lot of a public recreation area). Although the city is conducting a pilot program to allow motorized scooters and bikes on certain Austin trails, only electric bikes are allowed on the boardwalk that appears in the picture.
“The Austin Parks and Recreation Department would like to reinforce to the public that the picture of OjO scooters on the Boardwalk in their press announcement in no way endorses the idea that scooters may be ridden on the trail or boardwalk during the pilot program,” the city’s Parks and Recreation Department said in a statement.
McFadden noted that OjO has been talking with the City of Austin about allowing these scooters on the hike and bike trail provided that OjO finds a way to use geo fencing to limit the scooters to 10 miles per hour while they are in city parks (10 miles per hour is the speed limit for vehicles in city parks).
A changing transportation network
Jay Blazek Crossley, the executive director of the nonprofit Farm & City, said that geo fencing and data could be a powerful tool to harness if OjO has, in fact, successfully learned how to keep scooter speeds down in certain locations.
Crossley knows quite a bit about traffic safety, in his role as executive director, he runs the Vision Zero movement for Texas, which aims to stop traffic deaths and injuries across the state.
According to his crunching of state numbers, someone dies every four days in the city of Austin’s transportation system. He puts a lot of his focus on car crashes which are tied to many of those statewide injuries and deaths.
The discussion in Austin about scooters, he sees as a bit of a “canary in a coal mine.”
“We have real traffic problems and we have real traffic safety issues, here in Texas 10 people die every day [to traffic violence] and I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Crossley said. “And I think somehow the scooters have brought everyone’s attention to the streets and whether or not they’re safe.”
“We need a complete safe sidewalk network for people to walk or use wheelchairs across the whole city, and we also need a complete safe, small vehicle, lower speed network across the whole city and we also need a safer car network across the whole city,” he continued. “And we really don’t have any of those three at this time.”
He noted that while it may be annoying and against the rules for people to ride on the sidewalks with their scooters in downtown Austin, it’s symptomatic of a larger problem.
“Anywhere where there’s a person riding a scooter on the sidewalk that’s telling you the street didn’t seem safe to them,” he said.
That feeling of a need for more designated places fore these electric vehicles was echoed by Katie Deolloz. Deeolloz is the owner of ATX Walks where she offers walking coaching and advocates for safer ways for people to get around.
“What I believe this transportation mode [the OjO scooter] highlights is the need for a new type of travel lane designated for non-car/truck vehicles operated in the 10-25 MPH range (possibly),” she said in an email.
Delleoz, who recently served as the interim executive director for BikeAustin, worries that without that new type of lane, there might be conflict between motorized vehicles and non-motorized bikes in designated bike lanes.
“This is a device that could clearly benefit individuals with mobility impairments, but with the current infrastructure, it may well be putting all users at risk,” she said of the OjO scooter.
Ben Krech, who works near the 3rd Street bike lane and has traveled on electric scooters before, said he’d consider riding an OjO scooter.
He thinks it’s good the city of Austin has rules for these scooter companies and hopes the city continues to enforce them.
“I think there’s some issues with the scooters that need to be sorted out, really with traffic logistics, just making things smooth,” Krech said.
He added that it may be beneficial for consumers to have more scooter choices.
“Something where you could sit down is definitely a good option for longer trips,” he said of OjO’s new vehicle.