In its scramble to create a framework for legal operation of dockless vehicles (currently bicycles and scooters) on Austin streets and sidewalks, the city has issued potentially game-changing emergency rules for deployment.
On April 26, the city put in place a pilot program that is supposed to begin taking applications today and banned operation of all dockless-vehicle sharing companies until they are operating under a license. Less widely reported was that on Monday, May 7, it also adopted “The Emergency Rules for Deployment of 2 Emerging Transportation Mobility Systems.” The document, issued by City Manager Spencer Cronk and signed off by the city’s transportation department, contains a number of regulations one would expect—those addressing speed capability, areas of legal operation, technical standards, license display, and the like.
The advent of ‘lock-to’ technology
What might have come as a surprise to some is the requirement that, as of August 1, “all units [dockless, shared bikes and scooters] shall be capable of being locked to a bike rack or shall be equipped with haptic technology that indicates to the user if they have parked in a designated, geo-fenced parking area.” The former is commonly referred as “lock-to” capability or technology.
According to a representative of bike-share company Zagster, only that company’s Pace and Uber’s Jump dockless bike-share providers have that technology. The representative also conveyed via email that Pace will likely launch 500 of its bicycles in Austin later this week, depending on how the city’s licensing process goes.
Who will be left standing in the dockless wars?
The battle over dockless-vehicle sharing has been free-floating, although the city has responded quickly to developments on all fronts. After the city initially left electric-scooter companies out of the public planning conversation for its vehicle-sharing program in April, companies LimeBike and Bird introduced dockless electric scooters to Austin streets sans licenses or any existing system for obtaining one.
After a brief kerfuffle and impounding of the vehicles, the city and companies reached an agreement that the latter would be “in good standing” to apply for licenses if they ceased operations until the city launched its program.
Zagster and similar company Spin then issued a letter asking the city to ban Bird and LimeBike, claiming the two companies that jumped the gun gained an unfair market advantage over those that waited until Austin had some regulations in place.
Assuming that by August 1, dockless bikes and scooters without lock-to capabilities will be “banned in Austin,” according to Zagster’s rep, that company’s Pace and Uber’s Jump bikes will be the only ones allowed to operate in the city.
Spokesmen from Spin and Chinese dockless-bike-sharing company Ofo, meanwhile, both told the Austin American-Statesman’s Ben Wear Wednesday that the lack of stakeholder input in the process has resulted in rules that are impractical or nearly impossible to follow.