Where did all the dockless electric scooters go?

Meara Isenberg

Students opening their Bird or LimeBike dockless electric scooter apps over the weekend were not greeted with the usual flood of icons signifying available scooters in the campus area. 

In response to a city ordinance passed at an Austin City Council meeting that ran from Thursday into the early hours of Friday morning, the stationless scooter companies have suspended their services until obtaining a permit the new
ordinance requires.

“From the beginning we have respected the rule of law and we will not operate outside the boundaries of the ordinance just passed,” Bird spokesperson Kenneth Baer said in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with the Austin Transportation Department to obtain a permit as soon as possible.”

At the meeting, council members voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that added to existing city law, making it more clear that it is illegal for scooters or bikes for rent to be left in on city streets, alleys or sidewalks without a permit.

LimeBike spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt said in a statement the company will be immediately removing its scooters from Austin streets while it applies for a permit. The statement also said both dockless bikes and e-assist bikes will also
be returning.

The new permitting process begins May 1 and can take up to two weeks, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Officials during the meeting said permits will last for a
six-month period.

Bird and LimeBike scooters landed in Austin in early April while the city was still engaging in conversations about how best to bring the dockless vehicles in. Once the new permitting process was decided on, the city gave both companies 24 hours to take their vehicles off the streets or
risk impoundment.

The new permitting process would allow for multiple other forms of dockless vehicles to apply for permits, including local Austin-based companies such as GOAT, a dockless scooter company.

GOAT owner Michael Schramm addressed the Council during the meeting and said his company has waited patiently during the city’s dockless forum process and now faces an uphill battle to compete against two already widespread companies in the dockless scooter market.

“Please consider the damage done to local companies who have patiently waited, who have patiently been working with the city, to enter the market at the right time, in the right way,” Schramm said during the meeting.

Elliott McFadden, executive director of Austin B-cycle, the city’s current station-based bike system, said he feels like the permitting process has been rushed, and in the process the city has disregarded the community’s feedback.

“Bird and Lime … didn’t want to wait for the process set up back in February,” McFadden said. “We’re doing all this stuff and rushing for a couple of
bad players.”

James Lentz, president of the Campus Bike Alliance at UT, said he supports the city’s decision to introduce the permit process. Lentz said so far he has heard from students that the scooters are occasionally blocking bike racks but he has not seen any significant problems result from them being on campus.

“I think (the city’s) response is pretty reasonable,” Lentz said. “It seems to be aimed at keeping the right of way safe and accessible for everyone, which is obviously needed.”