Austin trail-goers may encounter more electric scooters starting next month.
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department is launching a pilot program that will allow the e-scooters and e-bikes to ride on certain trails to better determine how riders can share trails with runners and cyclists in the future.
Amanda Ross, a manager with the Parks and Recreation department who's overseeing the pilot, says the scooters have been cropping up on trails since the city allowed them to operate in Austin in May. Currently, city code classifies certain bikes and e-scooters from companies like Lime, Jump and Bird as motor vehicles, and they aren't allowed on trails.
"What we’re trying to do is really understand how we could allow them, or not allow them, based on results we get," Ross said of the project, which is still in the planning stages ahead of a mid-December launch.
She says the pilot will monitor all electric scooters and bikes– not just those owned by dockless mobility companies.
The pilot will run for roughly nine months through fall of next year. Parks and Recreation will survey trail-users, update signage, track crash reports and monitor electric bike and scooter speeds, which is currently limited to 10 mph. The program will also include a "trail etiquette education campaign" to teach users how to properly use the electric bikes and scooters.
“We’ve gotten feedback on both sides – people who are interested in using them and people who are very concerned about their use," Ross said.
The City of Austin will implement the pilot for both e-bikes and e-scooters on four trails:
- Johnson Creek Greenbelt Trail
- Shoal Creek Greenbelt Trail
- Northern Walnut Creek Trail
- Southern Walnut Creek Trail
The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail is also included in the pilot program, but the city will only allow e-bikes to operate on the trail.
City staff said the Butler Trail exemption was prompted by public opposition to e-scooters because of safety concerns and community opposition.
The Parks and Recreation Department, which is working in conjunction with the Law Department, Public Works and the Transportation Department, is expected to launch a website with more information on the program in the next few weeks.
"Consider this an opportunity to have your voice heard," said Ross. "Tell us your feedback and let us know because it’s important."
Dockless bikes and scooters began officially rolling out on to Austin streets this year, starting with bikes in February. Scooters outpaced that growth quickly, but have also prompted safety concerns and sidewalk congestion.
E-scooter operator Bird began operating without city permission in April, prompting Lime to follow suit. The city eventually sped up its pilot program process, approving the operators later that month ahead of a May rollout. Jump, a subsidiary of ride-hailing giant Uber, deployed its fleet of dockless scooters last month.
Lime says Austin riders have taken more than 1 million rides on its scooters since June. It has 500 scooters on the road, with plans for as many as 4,500. Bird has more than 500 scooters in Austin, and Jump has 1,000 scooters.