Local policymakers were scheduled to vote on enforceable regulations for dockless scooter riders at the March 28 City Council meeting, marking a major milestone since the two-wheeled vehicles dropped into Austin almost exactly one year ago; however, the vote was suddenly pulled from the agenda at the start of the session. Council members agreed to set a deadline for the vote to May 23.
“Staff and council want more time to develop this draft ordinance and go back out to community to make sure everyone understands the draft ordinance,” transportation department spokesperson Marissa Monroy said via text. “The rules for all micro-mobility devices will remain unchanged until council takes this up again.”
“Micro-mobility devices” is a catch-all term that was to be officially instituted through the postponed ordinance to categorize scooters, bikes, skateboards and “other compact devices designed for personal micro-mobility either privately owned or part of a shared-mobility service.”
Although certain practices are encouraged, such as staying off downtown sidewalks, no enforceable scooter laws exist in city code. The ordinance proposed by the transportation department would have set in place rules that could result in fines or citations if not obeyed.
Council members weigh in
Mayor Steve Adler said in a world where half the people he runs into love the scooters and the other half claim a near-death experience with them, it is going to be nearly impossible to come up with rules with which everyone agrees.
“We need to do everything we can to keep people safe on our street, but we need to make sure we do it right,” Adler said.
District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan objected to the postponement, saying half the people he runs into do not care about scooters. He claimed it is a “small universe” of people who care.
“A lot of folks I hear talk about near death experiences, when you really start talking about it, [you see] that it really wasn’t a near death experience,” Flannigan said. Flannigan urged City Council and city staff need to be clear about at what scale micro-mobility devices are impacting people.
The proposed rules ranged from creating “dismount zones” downtown where scooter riders would not be allowed to requiring scooter riders to obey all traffic laws such as avoiding use of mobile devices while riding. Riders under 18 years old would have been required to wear a helmet, and all riders would have needed to ride at “reasonable and prudent” speeds.
The ordinance 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.
Freshman council members Paige Ellis from District 8 and Natasha Harper-Madison from District 1 criticized the proposed doubling of fines, saying such an increase would negatively impact some members of the community more than others. They urged city staff to keep equity in mind for the future ordinance proposal.
Initially, the scooter behavior rules were set to be implemented as the first part to three other scooter ordinances scheduled to come up for vote by the end of spring—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. Monroy said all four ordinances will head to the City Council dais for May 23.