The City of Austin has firmed up rules of the road for people riding rentable, dockless e-scooters. The city council unanimously approved the rules Thursday.
The new rules formally fold scooters into the city’s transportation code and regulate them in a way similar to bikes. That means riders must abide by the city’s hands-free cell phone ordinance and operate a scooter in a "reasonable and prudent manner," meaning someone could be cited for riding recklessly on a sidewalk.
It also bans multiple riders on a single device and requires operators to not block sidewalks or building entrances when they park.
Robin Stallings of Bike Texas told councilmembers after the vote that he supports the ordinance, but said its helmet requirement for riders under 18 could be tricky to enforce.
"There’s better ways to get helmets on heads. But I don’t really see 17-year-olds or 16-year-olds or any other age walking around with a helmet in their hand for the once or twice a week when they might take the opportunity and jump on a micro mobility device," Stallings said.
The ordinance does not explicitly ban users from taking scooters into city parks, as the city is in the middle of a pilot program that allows them to operate on a handful of trails. The city will reevaluate how to regulate parkland use after that program is done.
Council Member Ann Kitchen expressed concern with how well the ordinance could be enforced, and suggested directing City Manager Spencer Cronk to report back to the council about enforcement sometime in the future.
"The reason for that is that one of the biggest concerns that the community has is that the requirements we put in place actually work in terms of being enforced and certain kinds of behavior no longer continuing," Kitchen said.
Since arriving in Austin roughly a year ago, the scooters have been divisive.
Some say the hastily parked scooters obstruct sidewalks and that the low bar for ridership poses safety risks. Proponents argue they give tourists and commuters alike a cheap, efficient way of getting over what transit advocates call the last-mile problem, reducing the number of cars on the road.
Currently there are 10 providers renting out the more than 14,000 scooters, and nearly 5 million rides have been taken, according to Austin Transportation Department data.
Violation of the new ordinance is a class C misdemeanor – with a fine of $20 for a first offense and $40 for any subsequent ticket.
A previous iteration of the proposed rules from March would've banned riders from using scooters on some sidewalks, but the ordinance before Council today stopped short of that.