The Dockless Scooter Makes Its ACL Debut, Sharing The Stage With Austin's Pedicabs
Paul McCartney, Metallica and dockless scooters are all back for the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. And as thousands of people make their way to Zilker Park, many will do so riding a scooter. And, like in other parts of town, parking them will be an issue.
Outside the ACL grounds last weekend, scooters lined a parking lot near Zach Scott Theater. Runners for Bird and Lime, the two largest dockless providers in Austin, were picking up scooters abandoned closer to the front gates and running them from Barton Springs to Toomey Road.
“We’ve actually had an incredible ridership,” said Joe Deshotel, manager of community affairs for Lime. “It really pairs well, I think, with these large events where you can’t get automobiles, and so people are looking for all kinds of alternatives to get to these festivals, and certainly scooters have been one of those.”
And with every new alternative to get to ACL, there is a new logistical puzzle.
“When you look at 75,000 people being located in the same area, you really have to think about logistics a lot, both in terms of when they’re coming into the festival, but also egress, and how that looks when everybody is trying to leave that area at the same time,” Deshotel said. “We really spend weeks working with the city and other dockless providers to work together to create the overall best experience, given the logistical difficulties.”
With an increase in 311 complaints reported about the scooters last weekend, both Lime and Bird say they will stay on top of any issues.
A Bird spokesperson said in a statement that the company will “be closely monitoring our fleet throughout the duration of the event to support the safety and advancement of our Austin riders and community.”
Also outside ACL on Barton Springs is perhaps Austin’s original alternative form of transportation: the pedicab.
On the surface, you might think pedicab operators would feel the sting of the scooters’ arrival the most.
Lamar (who wouldn't give his last name) sat atop his cab waiting for customers to leave Sunday night. He said for him, business is up this year over last ACL.
“It’s better, because there’s less cabs,” he said. “Cabs have quit because of the scooters, so they haven’t shown up.”
Since the scooters arrived earlier this year, it seems they have already shaken out some of the pedicab drivers.
The City of Austin Transportation Department says there hasn't been a drop in the number of permits given out, which is capped at 500. But, anecdotally, operators on Barton Springs on Sunday said the number of drivers was way down; some guess by about a third.
“It doesn’t really affect me personally,” said Joey, another pedicab driver, who wouldn't give her last name. “I think that Austin’s kind of inaccessible the way it’s laid out, so I’m happy to see people have other transportation options.”
She has driven a pedicab around town for six years. This is her fourth ACL.
“Like the biased pedicabber in me is like, ‘Oh, I wish you’d take a pedicab ride,’” she said. “But I’m happy that they can get around.”
And in a town struggling to figure out the best way to fight traffic, maybe that’s the best thing we all can hope for.