Earlier this year, Austin City Council approved a pilot program that would bring the world of dockless mobility to Austin. But before they could iron out what that would look like, a couple of companies showed up, started doing business and sailing down the sidewalks...prompting the city to hurry up.
On Friday, Bird and LimeBike scooters could still be seen zipping around town.
But if they aren't gone soon, the city says they may start impounding them as early as this weekend. Around 2 Friday morning, Austin City Council passed an ordinance allowing the city to regulate dockless mobility companies.
Basically, they'll need a permit to keep using the city's right of way to rent out the scooters.
“The ordinance is in effect today. The rub is that the ordinance says you can't have them without a permit but the city isn't ready to issue a permit and so that's the 2-week hiccup that we'll have,” said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. Flannigan supported the ordinance around 2 a.m. Friday morning along with the rest of his colleagues on council with Troxclair absent.
One of the speakers who pleaded with council for some sort of solution: Michael Schramm, CEO of Austin-based scooter company “Goat.” He says they approached the city in March about launching and was told to wait.
“And we did that. We left the market wide open because we trusted the process and we trusted you guys. This left the market wide open for two California companies to move in and exploit this open market with no competition whatsoever,” Schramm said. Schramm told council when scooter companies do get a level playing field, Goat will face an uphill battle.
Council, and most likely the rest of the community, still have many questions about scooters.
Like where you can ride them and how?
Austin Transportation says streets and sidewalks are ok. “Depending on their speed, weight and horsepower yes they are able to be on the sidewalks,” said ATD Director Robert Spillar.
Spillar says there are some spots downtown where you can't use the sidewalks like Congress and East Sixth. Flannigan says council directed staff to craft specifics that protect the public health and safety.
“There were elements added last night about data collection and identifying markers on the devices themselves and some liability insurance requirements but the council didn't specifically say 'this amount of data and this amount of insurance,’” Flannigan said.
Bird spokesperson Kenneth Baer told FOX 7:
"We are glad that the City of Austin is moving quickly to finalize a permit process and throughout this process we will comply with all laws regulating our last mile transportation solution. 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."
LimeBike told FOX 7:
“We commend the City of Austin for embracing innovation by putting forth a common-sense solution for this new, technology-based transportation option. Over the past few weeks, thousands of Austinites have relied on our electric scooters to easily and affordably get around the city. We are excited to participate in the pilot process, and will continue to work collaboratively with city and community leaders to bring our full fleet of dock-free mobility options to Austin. By providing a convenient, affordable transportation solution for residents and visitors, LimeBike hopes to improve urban mobility and transportation for all of Austin.”
The question is: when can dockless companies apply for a $30-per-device permit?
Austin Transportation says they are actually working through the weekend to get that ready. They have a goal of May 1 which is Tuesday but they say it will happen "as soon as administratively practical."