City of Austin expects to see more dockless vehicles used for longer trips in 2020

New dockless vehicles, such as Revel mopeds, have entered the Austin market, in addition to electric scooters, pictured here in West Campus. (Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper)
New dockless vehicles, such as Revel mopeds, have entered the Austin market, in addition to electric scooters, pictured here in West Campus. (Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper)

New dockless vehicles, such as Revel mopeds, have entered the Austin market, in addition to electric scooters, pictured here in West Campus. (Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper)

When electric scooters first arrived in Austin in April 2018, residents and city officials alike raised concerns about regulations, safety and inconvenience.

Today, they are a widely used resource—there were more than 5 million electric scooter trips in the city of Austin in 2019, according to the transportation department—and new vehicles capable of longer trips are entering the market.

Jacob Culberson, mobility services division manager for the transportation department, said he expects micro-mobility operators to debut more robust vehicles that can hold a longer charge and serve a wider audience, including residents with disabilities.

In November, Revel launched in Austin with 1,000 electric mopeds. That same month, Ford Motor began mapping the city of Austin, where it will launch its autonomous commercial vehicles in 2021.

Culberson expects existing operators to follow suit.


“It’s great to see all of these companies trying to fill those holes that pop up and may exist,” he said.

Meanwhile, the transportation department will make recommendations to Austin City Council on ways to improve micro-mobility regulations early this year.

These recommendations are informed by efforts undertaken in 2019 by various city departments, including a pilot program to study scooter use on trails and parkland and an epidemiological study of scooter-related injuries conducted in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Amanda Ross, natural resources division manager for the parks and recreation department, presented the results of the pilot program the parks and recreation board Dec. 3.

“Really, what came out of it was that the speed and etiquette associated with bikes on our trails, particularly multiuse trails, was a big concern, and not just this new technology option [i.e. scooters],” Ross said.

While the pilot program results show riders continue to use scooters on prohibited parkland, such as the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, Ross said the parks department hopes to wield geofencing technology to prevent scooters from operating in prohibited zones.

Geofencing is a type of speed-override technology designed to discourage illegal scooter use on parkland, according to the transportation department. In March, geofencing technology enabled scooter companies to slow their vehicles to a maximum speed of eight miles per hour on The University of Texas campus. In September, its use expanded to unpaved park trails, where scooters are prohibited.

The transportation department also recommended revising its responsible riding ordinance to allow electric scooters on some parkland trails, creating designated parking box areas and setting trail speed limits, according to Ross’ presentation.

Safety remains the transportation department’s top priority, Assistant Director Jason JonMichael said.

According to Dell Seton Medical Center, the hospital saw 109 severe scooter injuries between January and November. These numbers do not reflect less severe scooter injuries.

In February, the city's first scooter-related fatality occurred downtown on the I-35 frontage road.

However, JonMichael said safety is improving as residents grow more comfortable riding and driving alongside scooters and other dockless vehicles.

“It’s a matter of behind-the-wheel miles,” JonMichael said.
By Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.


MOST RECENT

Travis County expects about 12% of registered voters to cast a mail-in ballot in the Nov. 3 election. The county has set up drive-thru locations where voters can hand-deliver their mail-in ballots to county staff. The image shows the traffic flow at the 700 Lavaca Street parking garage. Additional drive-thru locations will be open at 1010 Lavaca St. and 5501 Airport Blvd. (Design by Miranda Baker)
Expecting 100,000 mail-in ballots, Travis County expands voting options

The county clerk has set up drive-thru options to deliver mail-in ballots, expanded early voting hours and identified new in--person polling locations.

Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde spoke at a board meeting Sept. 28 about the district's reopening plan as well as enrollment declines. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD enrollment down by 5,000 students to start 2020-21 school year

The enrollment decrease could result in $48 million in lost state revenue, according to the district.

Capital Metro's board of directors approved the public transportation agency's $390.5 million budget for fiscal year 2020-21 on Sept. 28. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
$390.5 million Capital Metro budget projects $14 million reduction in sales tax revenue

Cap Metro's sales tax revenue for the upcoming year landed between the best- and worst-case projections its CFO had presented earlier this summer.

Bear Creek Elementary School teacher Jewellyn Forrest returned to her 4th grade classroom on Sept. 8 to begin teaching virtually. The AISD school year has begun completely virtually. On Oct. 5, students will begin returning to campus. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD community grapples with in-person return

Some students are set to return to Austin ISD campuses on Oct. 5, setting up difficult decisions for parents, teachers and administrators.

Gov. Greg Abbott at a press conference
Gov. Greg Abbott to allocate $171M from CARES Act to help renters at risk of eviction

Gov. Greg Abbott will allocate more than $171 million in renters assistance from the federal coronavirus relief package to eligible Texans.

(Courtesy New Braunfels Ghost Tours)
Scary good: New Braunfels Ghost Tours makes top 10 list and more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

Travis County voter round-up, ballot box
November 2020 election guide: Who's on the ballot, where to vote and how to drop off your mail-in ballot in Travis County

Your guide to the November 2020 ballot, voting locations and mail-in ballot information for Travis County residents.

Aba, a Mediterranean restaurant based in Chicago, will open in Austin on Oct. 1. (Courtesy Aba)
Coming soon to Austin: Pavement opening second vintage store, Chicago-based Mediterranean spot comes to Music Lane and more

Two Hands, an Australian café, and Mediterranean spot Aba will both be opening in the Music Lane area along South Congress within the next few weeks.

Simon Madera, owner of Taco Flats, said business is down 40% across the board but that he has readjusted the business model to stay afloat in the pandemic long term. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
After surviving six months, Austin's workers, small businesses are acknowledging pandemic's long-term reality

After months of day-to-day reassessments, many in the business community are now figuring out how to make it to the other end of the pandemic.

From left: Incumbent Greg Casar is facing off against Louis C. Herrin III and Ramesses Setepenre for the District 4 Austin City Council seat. (Courtesy ATXN)
In Austin City Council’s District 4, candidates discuss addressing homelessness and mental health

Two challengers will face incumbent Greg Casar for the Northeast Austin City Council seat.

Gov. Greg Abbott on July 27 issued an executive order extending the early voting period for the Nov. 3 election. (Screenshot of Sept. 17 press conference)
Lawsuit takes aim at start date for early voting as some Texas Republicans challenge Gov. Greg Abbott's order

A group of prominent Texas Republicans has embarked on a legal effort to undo the governor's executive order that extended the early voting period for the Nov. 3 election.