People Keep Dumping Scooters In Austin Waters. City Leaders Want To Study The Environmental Impact.

Jan 23, 2020

The Austin City Council wants to get the word out that it’s illegal to dump scooters in bodies of water around town. In a resolution passed Thursday, members also directed staff to look into conducting a study on the effects of scooters polluting the city’s waterways.

Council Member Ann Kitchen said the resolution goes beyond scooters; it's about littering.

"This is not a scooter resolution," she said. "That's an important part of it, but I see it as a much broader issue that relates to plastics and a whole range of other kinds of litter that we might see" in Austin's waterways.

The city’s Watershed Protection Department says several hundred scooters have been found in drainage or water since 2018. The department believes there could be hundreds more yet to be discovered.

The resolution from Council Member Paige Ellis asks the city to commission a study that would look at the environmental effects all kinds of dumping – scooters included– have on Austin's waterways. City staff said the study would cost half a million dollars and take up to a year to complete.

But staff don't yet know where the money to pay for such a study would come from. Council Member Kathie Tovo said it should come from fees and penalties imposed on illegal dumpers.

There have been more than 7 million rides since scooters and other devices made their way into Austin in 2018, according to the resolution. City staff said Thursday more than 300 have been reported and retrieved from water, at a cost of more than $100,000 to scooter companies.

Robert Spillar, director of the Austin Transportation Department, said when a scooter is reported in water, the company that owns it is notified. The company then has one hour to start the process of retrieving it, and 24 hours to completely remove it. If it doesn't, the company is charged for the scooter's removal and impoundment.  

Council Member Alison Alter expressed disappointment that it's taken this long to get action started. She said there have been "many, many months" of scooter dumping, but there hasn't been an appropriate response.

"There have been a number of cases, particularly with environmental issues, where [resolutions] have been passed unanimously by council. And then they don't get funded or they miss the deadline for the budget," she said. "I would really like an answer of how we're gonna go about doing this so that we don't continually have environmental priorities unfunded."

In the meantime, Council wants to raise public awareness about the illegality and harmfulness of chunking a  scooter into water. Councilmember Ellis says that could start with something as small as a sign near a waterway listing the fees and penalties that come with illegal dumping.

“Our watersheds are our most important natural resource, and we are due for a study on how to best protect them from plastic bags, litter, and hazardous materials,” Ellis said.

In the meantime, council wants to raise public awareness about the illegality and harmfulness of chucking a scooter into water. She says that could start with something as small as a sign near a waterway listing the fees and penalties that come with illegal dumping.

“Our watersheds are our most important natural resource, and we are due for a study on how to best protect them from plastic bags, litter, and hazardous materials,” Ellis said.

Council asked the city manager to report back in February on the scope of a potential study, as well as how to pay for it.