In late April, the Austin City Council passed “emergency” legislation that allows them to impound electric scooters that are left out, either on the street or sidewalks by rental companies or their customers, should the owner and the scooter not have a permit.
The legislation came on Friday night after two major companies, Lime and Bird, began offering scooters for rent all over the city.
The new companies became extremely popular just a matter of weeks after Austin introduced their new public bikes program, which received heavy amounts of backlash from Austinites.
The scooter rental process works in a way similar to that of Uber and Lyft, which Austin has also banned in the past. The scooters, which are left where the last person used them, are “locked.” In order to unlock the scooter, one must download the company’s application, submit license and payment information, and activate the scooter by taking a picture of the barcode on it.
After paying a $1 initial fee, the rider is then charged a small amount for every mile they use the scooter. Additionally, the companies pay for “chargers,” people who take scooters into their homes and charge them.
The Austin City Council and both scooter companies agreed to the temporary hold on services so that the city could figure out how to regulate the scooters. In an email to users of the product, Lime said they intend to be back in a few days, while a spokesman for Bird said they were looking forward to working with Austin’s Department of Transportation in order to obtain the necessary permits to operate within the city.
A licensing process is supposed to be put in place by May 1st. However, it remains to be seen if the city will eventually overregulate the scooter rental companies into extinction.
The scooters offer Austinites not only an environmentally friendly alternative to driving a car to work, but a cheap and easy way of getting around the city. For a city that prides itself on progressive and forward thinking, the City of Austin and the city council has clearly not enacted policy reflective of that.
This new ban on innovative companies like Bird and Lime shows how much the City of Austin disdains free market alternatives.