New, enforceable scooter rider rules up for Austin City Council approval March 28

Electric scooters have had a major impact on mobility in Austin since they were introduced in April 2018.

Electric scooters have had a major impact on mobility in Austin since they were introduced in April 2018.

Almost exactly one year after hundreds—now thousands—of two-wheeled electric scooters dropped onto the Austin mobility scene seemingly out of nowhere, city leaders are ready to implement enforceable regulations on riders.

Scooters, bikes and skateboards could all fall under the category of micro-mobility devices and be subject to the same regulations if City Council approves a micro-mobility rider behavior ordinance at its March 28 meeting next week.

The ordinance, drafted by the Austin Transportation Department, represents the first set of enforceable rules around where and how scooters can be used throughout the city and lays out penalties for failure to obey.

As policymakers previously discussed, scooter and other micro-mobility device riders could soon see the highest pedestrian trafficked sidewalks throughout Austin designated as dismount zones, indicating sidewalk areas only pedestrians are allowed. Although maps have yet to be released, Jen Samp, spokesperson for the transportation department, said many of these dismount zones will find a home in downtown Austin, and scooters and bikes would still be allowed on the city’s less busy sidewalks.

Similar to cyclists, scooter riders under the proposed ordinance would need to follow all traffic laws, including those that prohibit the use of mobile devices while driving. Scooter riders would be required to always ride in the same direction as traffic, unless a dedicated lane indicates otherwise, and be prohibited from lane splitting.

To boost safety, all riders under 18 years old would be required to wear a helmet. This rule would also apply to skateboarders, who, currently, are not required to wear helmets.

In drafting scooter rules, council members and city staff discussed the need for rules following a crash in which a person or property is injured. These rules require a process similar to getting in a car accident in which parties exchange names, addresses and telephone numbers. If a rider crashes and damages the property of someone not present, for example, the side of a car door, the rider has to leave a note with his or her information attached.

The transportation department has also proposed an increase in penalties for violating the ordinance—$40 for the first conviction, which is up from $20, and $80 for subsequent convictions, an increase from $40. However, Samp said during the initial roll out of these rules, should City Council approve them next week, the city will focus on "warn and inform" rather than simply handing out citations and fines.

Although this ordinance only covers rider behavior, transportation department Director Rob Spillar said three other ordinances are still under review and will be brought to City Council later this spring. These include Austin’s authority to regulate shared micro-mobility services in the public right of way; administrative fees for processing, monitoring and licensing; and the standards and limits for creating a franchise model for micro-mobility.

The results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s epidemiological study on scooter injuries, which launched locally in December, are expected later this spring as well.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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