Scooters vanish overnight following new rules in Austin

Austin

Hundreds of rentable electric scooters that recently popped up in droves on Austin’s sidewalks are now gone overnight.

Less than two days after the Austin City Council made a tweak to existing city code — making it clear that leaving unpermitted rentable scooters or bikes on city streets is illegal — Bird and Limebike have pulled their scooters off Austin’s streets.

The new ordinance will allow the scooters on city sidewalks if they stay below 20 mph. The new rules also set up a permitting process where those that aren’t permitted could be confiscated and fined.

The ordinance took effect immediately, but the city is still in the process of establishing the license and permitting process. City leaders previously said they hoped to implement the permitting rules by May 1, but it could take longer. Austin Transportation Department employees are working through the weekend to establish the process as soon as administratively possible.

In the meantime, however, the Austin Transportation Department says if Bird and LimeBike continue to rent out scooters before receiving the proper permits, they’ll be in violation of City Code, and the scooters will be impounded. The city can fine the companies $200 for each scooter found on the street or sidewalk, plus impound fees.

You’ve probably seen them on sidewalks and in bike lanes in the past month. The idea is that you can use an app to find one of the scooters, hop on and leave it at your destination when you’re done.

“This is new, and it’s exciting,” said Council Member Ann Kitchen, who is also chair of the mobility committee. “So, we just need to quickly update our code. For a long time, we’ve had in code that you can’t obstruct a sidewalk and you can’t do something on a right-of-way that will hurt people. So, we are just making it clear that that applies to scooters, too.”

Until Sunday, no one knew if Bird and LimeBike were going to comply with the new ordinance. But now, both of their apps show no scooters available in town.

Both Bird and LimeBike released statements Sunday.

From Bird Spokesperson Kenneth Baer:

“We expect Birds in Austin to be back on the streets within a few days. From the beginning, we have respected the rule of law and we will not operate outside the boundaries of the ordinance just passed. We look forward to working closely with the Austin Transportation Department to obtain a permit as soon as possible in order to minimize any potential disruption or delay in service to the people of Austin.”

From LimeBike Spokesperson Mary Caroline Pruitt:

“LimeBike applauds the City of Austin’s decision to establish a permit to allow for dock-free mobility in the city. Given this recent progress and in response to a request from the City of Austin, we will be removing our scooters from the streets of Austin effectively immediately while we apply for a permit. We express our sincerest apologies to our riders for the inconvenience and look forward to deploying a multi-modal fleet later this week.

“Over the past few weeks, thousands of Austinites have utilized our e-assist scooters to navigate the City and get where they need to go. Under this new permit system, we look forward to rolling out a multi-modal fleet to include bikes, e-assist bikes, and e-assist scooters.”

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