Cite as: Riley Bearden, Austin, TX, in University of South Carolina School of Law, Dockless Mobility: A Look into the Regulation of E-scooters, https://docklessmobility.org/case-studies/austin-tx/ (last updated 2019).
Austin, TX passed a set of emergency rules to govern dockless bikes and scooters after Bird and Lime rolled them out onto the streets. They then allowed several months of policy debate, product demonstrations and community discussions before producing regulations that implemented best practices based on other cities who effectively regulated dockless mobility. The city of Austin sought to bring the scooters into their city in order to “level the playing field” for all of its citizens who experience first mile-last mile commute issues and increase access to short trip mobility services. They struggled with the guerilla implementation (operators depositing scooters on the streets without permits or regulation in place) and sought to develop a better way to handle the influx of shared transportation options.
After impounding improperly parked units and struggling to properly categorize the scooters under the existing City Code, the city recognized the need for new regulations that specifically addressed dockless scooters and their users. They decided to sidestep their original plans and to accelerate their time frame for implementation. The new regulations needed to address: “leasing or renting new devices and services, facilitating and strengthening enforcement actions, and moving directly to a permit process, with fees already authorized by Council that recapture costs for program management, education, inspection and bike/E-scooter parking.”
The regulations provide:
The regulations carefully identify the service area and fleet instructions and provide users and licensees with clear, delineated requirements.
Austin city administrators are hopeful that this system will still be attractive to dockless mobility companies while encouraging responsible business practices. It clarifies the city’s approach to regulating both operators and users. Austin identified the major issues that they and other cities were experiencing and proceeded to review other cities for best practices in regulating dockless mobility that was already in the city.
Their city website has a page entirely devoted to dockless mobility. It explains the guidelines for use, such as responsible parking and remaining on the right of way. It provides the November 9, 2018 Director Rules for Deployment and Operation of Shared Small Vehicle Mobility Systems, the rules in their entirety as filed with the City Clerk. The website also has a list of the operators that have been issued licenses, including how many scooters they have available and where those scooters are zoned (i.e. tourism districts and lower income districts).
The city also provides information for potential licensees on the website. Austin requires that the companies provide data from the trips on the scooters. This page notifies users that their their data is being tracked and collected and notifies potential licensees of the data sharing requirements.
Companies like Lime and Bird protested the implementation of these rules particularly for impeding the purpose of dockless mobility. Parking requirments that restrict where the units can be retrieved and returned and limit the company’s original vision for a dockless system and fine the operator’s for misplaced units. However, Pace, the first company to be issued a permit in Austin have embraced the rules.
“It’s great to see more and more city leaders committed to bringing dockless bike share to their cities in a way that keeps sidewalks safe and clear, while also preserving the beauty and aesthetics of the urban streetscape.” Tim Ericson, CEO for Pace’s parent, Zagster, said in a news release. “The U.S. dockless mobility market has clearly shifted, as the country’s largest cities like Austin and Chicago begin making lock-to core to their dockless mobility programs.”
Austin has recovered from the difficulties created by guerilla implementation of dockless mobility and has made clear that companies are welcome to bring in their new technology, as long as they’re willing to follow the permitting requirements. Austin seems open to feedback from the community about what is working and what is creating problems and seems willing to adjust accordingly. They’ve implemented what they identified as best practices and it appears that despite a rough start, the scooters are now cruising into Austin more smoothly.