Bird returns to Austin streets

Meara Isenberg

Dockless electric scooter companies Bird and LimeBike have returned to the streets of Austin, along with new competition, after temporarily removing their scooters in April to comply with the city’s new permitting process.  

The city has also allowed local scooter company GOAT and Pace dockless bikes, distributed by the bikeshare company Zagster, to operate their vehicles on city streets.

“We’re not as big and we don’t have as much money as these (other scooter) companies, so we’re focusing on quality.” said Michael Schramm, CEO and founder of GOAT. 

Schramm said GOAT is currently a small team of people who work out of a garage to piece their electric scooters together by hand. The result, Schramm said, is that there are less than 100 of their purple scooters on the streets.

By contrast, Bird received permission to deploy 500 vehicles in Austin, which is the maximum allowed under the permitting system, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

GOAT, Bird and Lime scooters all cost $1 to start and 15 cents per minute to ride. The Statesman reported on May 23 that Bird had obtained permits to operate in Austin, and over the weekend, LimeBike scooters began popping up in the Austin area. 

Bike-share company Zagster has also rolled out less than 200 of its Pace dockless bikes onto Austin streets, said Chad Jacobs, Austin Expansion Manager with Pace.

Jacobs said Pace bikes are unique in their ability to be locked to public bike racks. The black and white bikes cost $1 per 30 minutes to ride and the company offers college students unlimited 60 minute trips for $14.50 a month ­— half of their regular monthly subscription.

“There’s a number of bikeshare operators that don’t require riders to ultimately lock their bikes at the end of a ride, so they give them this ability to leave their bikes absolutely anywhere,” Jacobs said. “We require that bikes lock to things to avoid these issues.”

Under the city’s permitting system, all dockless vehicles are required to have locks by Aug. 1. While Pace bikes have built-in locks, the scooters do not currently have locks. 

“We have to make it work,” Schramm said. “We’re absolutely going to be here when the students come back (for fall semester).”

According to their mobile apps, only a handful of Pace bikes and GOAT scooters appeared on campus Friday afternoon. However, many students still zipped around on red bikes from Austin B-cycle, the city’s docked bike system. Austin B-cycle allows UT students to rent the bikes free for up to an hour.

“When you have access to a free bike, it doesn’t make sense to me (to use dockless scooters),” said finance graduate student Iman Dolatabadi, who opted to take an Austin B-cycle when grabbing lunch with friends. “If you want to have fun once or twice, it makes sense but not if you want to use them 24/7.”

His friend Lee Seltzer, however, said there are no Austin B-cycle stations near his apartment, so he could see himself renting a dockless bike in the future for convenience.

“It looks a lot cooler for an adult to ride around on a bike than a scooter,” said Seltzer, a finance graduate student. “If it was really cheap and they started popping up around my apartment, I would (use a dockless bike).”