Most Austinites have seen the Instagram post by now: A mound of scooters, let’s say eight feet tall, smack in the middle of both Dirty Sixth and SXSW. Snapped by Instagrammer Trent Jones (@mooseheadfeed) and said to be created by members of the police department one heady night during the festivals, the pile served as a symbol for pretty much whatever you wanted it to be: cautionary tale, possible arson magnet, or source of passing amusement.
Mostly, though, the buzz was around the (pick one): 1) abundance, 2) inevitability, 3) happy synergy, or 4) plague of dockless vehicles—primarily electric scooters—created at SXSW this year.
While dockless bikes and scooters have been operating in the central city for just shy of a year now, their deployment and popularity for 10 days in March—along with a lack of clear city regulations—prompted a wide-ranging and vigorous conversation about everything from the nature of the people riding them to apocalyptic visions for the future of transportation.
In the end, though, were there really that many, and was it really that significant? Yes and yes, as it turns out. Major apps for dockless vehicles saw a big increase in downloads during the festival and, according to data on the city’s dockless mobility website (boiled down nicely in a Monday KUT story), the number of trips on dockless vehicles during the festival totaled at least 465,785—434,000 of them being scooter rides, or more than 12 percent of the total 3.5 million scooter rides taken since the vehicles were (legally) deployed here almost a year ago.
While the city suspended granting new dockless-vehicle licenses shortly before SXSW 2019, according to a January KUT report, there were already 17,650 scooters and bikes on the street at that point—all licensed to operate only in the “downtown Austin project coordination zone”—precisely the areas where the conference takes place and festivals (interactive, film, and music) and ancillary activities are heaviest.
Between setting up designated scooter and bike parking areas and rounding up, charging, and returning them to the streets, dockless companies were active in doing what they could to ensure the vehicles remained concentrated downtown during the conference and festivals.
Let’s go to the numbers
Here are some other fun numbers from the event, using city data compiled by KUT for Monday’s story. When considering them, it’s important to keep in mind that city data do not include trips of less than one-tenth of a mile, or about 528 feet—a little over a block in Austin, more or less.
Let’s not discount the dockless bikes, either: Nearly 32,000 people rode them during the fest—23 percent of the rides the city has tracked since April. They traveled a median distance of 1.09 miles, and rides lasted a median of 10.6 minutes. The highest number of bike rides during a single day of the festival was 4,341, on March 14.
The 433,942 rides taken on dockless scooters were for a median distance of 0.65 miles and lasted a median of 7.8 minutes. There were 52,254 scooter rides on March 9, the highest number of individual scooter rides in a single day during the festival.
Austin and scooter safety
Last December, the national Center for Disease control opened its first study of dockless scooter safety in Austin. The center has finished collecting data for the study but has not yet released its findings.
There has been one death caused by a crash between a car and a scooter in the city.
An Austin man is suing the Lime scooter company, claiming that a malfunction that occurred when he was using the scooter endangered him, according to a February KXAN-NBC report.
What’s next for dockless mobility in Austin
During and before SXSW, dockless-vehicle rides were allowed to operate under a set of guidelines posted on its website:
Pedestrians First - Yield to people walking on sidewalks.
Park Responsibly - Park in a secure, upright position in designated areas, such as furniture zones of sidewalks, public bike racks and other marked parking zones. On sidewalks, give at least 3 feet of clearance for accessibility.
Stay on Right of Way - Do not take dockless devices to unauthorized areas, such as private property, parkland, or state-owned land, unless otherwise authorized.
Know What You’re Sharing - Users have access to dockless mobility services without having to share Personally Identifiable Information and can opt in to data sharing only after getting clear information about what data will be shared.
Right and Report - If you see a unit toppled over or parked improperly, help out by righting the unit and reporting the issue to Austin 3-1-1.
The University of Texas, meanwhile, has already set and is enforcing rules for the scooters and bikes on its Austin campus.
The Austin City Council is set to discuss and possibly vote on an ordinance amending the city’s transportation code to include dockless bikes and scooters at its regular meeting Thursday.