What’s Next for Scooters on the Forty Acres

Last spring, UT campus became the site of a scooter outbreak almost overnight. Seemingly out of nowhere, electric scooters cropped up outside of apartment complexes in West Campus, next to coffee shops around Central Austin, and soon, they were everywhere.

The scooters—primarily provided by transportation startups Bird and Lime—are activated through an app. Once users download it, they can find available scooters on a map, link their payment information, unlock the scooter, and begin riding for around $0.15 per minute. For a lot of students, they were a near-instant hit. Suddenly, a 20-minute walk to campus could be swapped out for a $2 scooter ride that cut travel time in half.

Before what he calls the “scooter boom,” last spring civil engineering junior Grant Haralson said there was more of a stigma against students who rode scooters to class. But in the span of a month, it became impossible to traverse campus without them.

“It went from being lame to being an easy thing for everyone to do—it’s normal,” Haralson says. “I still mostly use my bike to get around, but if I’m going out and I don’t want to bring my bike, grabbing a scooter is easier and cheaper than grabbing an Uber. It’s just an easy little ride.”

There’s no doubt that the scooters are popular—Bird was recently valued at $2 billion—but not everyone is on board. After launching in cities across the country, the scooters have been banned, burned, and destroyed. It isn’t hard to find complaints about them across social media, and one local Facebook event, “Gather all Scooters from the Middles of Sidewalks and Burn them” already has 3,500 people interested.

Most complaints stem from safety issues, namely where the scooters are being ridden or where riders discard them when the ride is over. In a viral Facebook post, Emily Shyrock, assistant director of UT’s Services for Students with Disabilities, cautioned people against leaving their scooters in sidewalks or pathways. For wheelchair users, these scooters can make it difficult or nearly impossible to safely get to where they need to go.

“These people aren’t trying to block access, but that is what’s happening,” Shyrock says. “These scooters make it easier for a lot of people to get around, but when they’re left on sidewalks, they block access for people that don’t have the option to step off the curb and get by.”

In response to dozens of complaints, UTPD has told students that scooters should be parked near bike racks and away from pedestrian walkways. People who ride or park their scooters improperly are also subject to the same fines as bicyclists, which range from $25-150.

Shyrock doesn’t think the scooters themselves are a bad idea, but she hopes that UTPD and Parking and Transportation Services will make campus transportation safer for everyone.

“I think in general it’s always good to have more transportation options, but the way that it’s being implemented has identified some gaps in that process,” Shyrock says. “There has to be some room for education, and people have to realize leaving scooters around isn’t just about inconvenience. It’s about accessibility and safety.”

When anthropology senior Mackenzie Finklea started to notice the scooters last spring, she thought it seemed like a good idea. But a few months later, she’s ready to see them gone. In the past month, she’s seen people not stopping at stop signs, riding on the sidewalk, and even had someone leave a scooter on her car while she was in it.

“They seemed like a good idea on the surface,” Finklea says. “But the scooters are a nuisance and people are reckless when they drive them. Traffic flow is already a problem in this city, especially around campus, and I think getting rid of the scooters be a step in the right direction to solving that problem.”

Despite the complaints, Haralson thinks the scooters aren’t going anywhere.

“I think they’re here to stay,” Haralson says. “They’re everywhere already and they open up so many doors for transportation. It’s cheap, it’s zero-emission, you don’t have to worry about parking, and they get people out of the house.”

 
 
 

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