Bird, LimeBike hit the brakes as Austin prepares dockless scooter permitting process

A Bird dockless scooter is parked on the corner of 24th and Nueces streets in Austin on April 24. The city of Plano on Nov. 12 approved an ordinance regulating commercial rentals of e-scooters.

A Bird dockless scooter is parked on the corner of 24th and Nueces streets in Austin on April 24. The city of Plano on Nov. 12 approved an ordinance regulating commercial rentals of e-scooters.

Last week a user opening the Bird or LimeBike apps in Austin would have found hundreds of dots indicating available dockless motorized electric scooters available to ride. Now, when the apps are pulled up, the downtown map is empty.

The two companies that brought dockless scooters to Austin earlier this month have pulled them off the streets as they wait for the city to institute a permitting process to regulate the use of the devices.

Just after midnight on Friday morning, Austin City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting any company from offering dockless scooters without a permit. The ordinance became effective immediately.

There is no timetable for the city to make the permits available, but Jen Samp, public information specialist for the Austin Transportation Department, said Monday that city staff have been working through the weekend and will begin the permitting process “as soon as administratively feasible.”

The permits will require dockless scooter operators to pay $30 for each device and will limit companies to a maximum of 500 vehicles. Both Bird and LimeBike say they will comply with the new ordinance.

“We look forward to working closely with the Austin Transportation Department to obtain a permit as soon as possible in order to minimize any potential disruption or delay in service to the people of Austin," Bird spokesperson Kenneth Baer told Community Impact Newspaper’s news partner Fox 7 on Friday.

Bird entered the Austin market on April 5, followed by LimeBike on April 16. Both did so before the city had a chance to complete its dockless mobility pilot program, which would have ultimately allowed a few companies to operate a limited number of the devices with city approval.

Michael Schramm, CEO of Austin-based scooter company Goat, said the companies that were willing to work with the city have been left at a disadvantage.

“We left the market wide open because we trusted the process and we trusted [the city]. This left the market wide open for two California companies to move in and exploit this open market with no competition whatsoever,” Schramm said at Thursday’s council meeting. “In this time, they have been able to ramp up without competition and successfully capture the mind share of Austinites.”

The scooters provide what company executives call a “last mile” solution—offering an option to quickly cover short distances of city commutes. Riders can locate a scooter using an app, take them to their destination, and leave them for the next customer.

Users can sign up to charge the devices overnight and leave them for riders the following morning for a small stipend–Bird offers $5 per battery.