Transportation around UT is a little hectic. Bikes, skateboards, construction vehicles and pedestrians zip past one another on Speedway. New to this medley are LimeBike and Bird scooters, a great addition to Austin’s growing transportation options, especially in light of the city’s exploding population and congested roadways. But we need to work together to solve some of the problems around scooter parking and safety.
You may not remember the exact day that dockless electric scooters invaded campus — Bird released scooters on April 5, followed by LimeBike on April 16 — but the invasion certainly seemed sudden. One day, “scooters” meant the childhood Razor scooters that karate-chopped your ankle. Now in the age of Silicon Valley and tech, new scooters are motorized and privatized.
The going rates for dockless scooters are pretty cheap for students, especially if traveling over longer distances. Both Bird and LimeBike charge a dollar to start the scooter up and less than 20 cents per minute to continue riding. For college students, this rate is pretty fair. We can all appreciate a relatively cheap transportation option. For less than $3, students can make it from one end of Speedway to another, making it to their 2 o’clock lecture at 2:10. These scooters, coupled with bike rentals, are increasing mobility on UT’s massive campus and throughout the greater Austin area.
But dockless transportation has its downsides. “Dockless or station-less mobility services are emerging transportation options that may sometimes be disruptive, particularly as they relate to operations within the public right of way,” according to a memo released by the Austin Transportation Department.
The city of Austin also said it is spending resources impounding abandoned scooters for safety violations on public property. In the past month, 55 of those impounded were Bird scooters. The scooters have been released back on the roads, but the financial burden of these violations should be on the companies themselves, not the city.
The city’s planned dockless mobility permit program is currently being expedited. It addresses many of these concerns by limiting the maximum number of vehicles per license holder, directing or educating customers on parking, working to designate parking areas and providing violations for companies operating unsafely or incorrectly within city limits.
Parking and Transportation Services sent an email about the scooters that reminded Longhorns to abide by campus rules, such as limiting riding to existing bike traffic areas, not riding on sidewalks (except to or from a bike rack) and using low speed around pedestrians. PTS followed those guidelines with its parking rules, which include limiting parking to near bike racks and not parking in front of ADA ramps, stairs, entrances, parking spaces, or pedestrian paths.
Austin’s new regulations are reasonable, considering larger issues have arisen in cities such as Dallas and San Francisco, where the San Francisco city attorney has issued cease-and-desist orders to several scooter companies over the creation of a “public nuisance” that threatens “public health and safety.” PTS is also well within its right to impose limitations on operation and parking on campus, because, as with dockless-anything, there comes the potential for a haphazard mess that not only impedes traffic but also leaves an eyesore for visitors to campus.
Scooters are new, and they’re cool. But they also make a mess, block traffic and litter public and private spaces. In order to keep these scooters enjoyable, we must work together as a community to be respectful of space, safety and property. If we do, these scooters can be a great new addition to Austin’s transportation options.
Verses is an environmental engineering and Plan II freshman from San Antonio.