Fair play for scooter companies


I was initially annoyed when I saw that the city was penalizing Lime for apparently exceeding its scooter limit. But apparently the sanction is due to an excess downtown, as opposed to overall. Ryan Thornton reports for the Monitor:

In a memo sent to City Council on Thursday, ATD Director Robert Spillar cited a safety issue created by an excess of 624 Lime scooters documented in addition to the 500 scooters permitted in the downtown Austin project coordination zone between Nov. 14 and Nov. 20 as the reason for the penalty.

The city is really trying to encourage the scooter operators to deploy outside of the downtown area:

In an effort to prevent too many scooters from flooding downtown and to ensure mobility options are also available in the surrounding areas, Austin has limited the number of dockless units allowed in the downtown zone extending between Oltorf Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from south to north and between MoPac Expressway and Chicon Street and Interstate 35 from west to east. While Lime was previously authorized to deploy a total of 5,000 scooters in Austin, 4,500 of those were required to be deployed outside the downtown zone. At this point, none of the other electric scooter companies operating in Austin have been penalized for exceeding the number of allowed units.

I live just south of that boundary and there are rarely scooters nearby. This is obviously a personal annoyance, although it’s probably helped me save money and burn more calories by forcing me to stick to my bike.

Clearly, the scooter companies don’t perceive much profit potential outside of the greater downtown area. It’s much more profitable to concentrate the scooters in the most densely populated (in terms of jobs/commerce as much as residences) part of town.

But if serving the periphery isn’t profitable but nevertheless provides a public good, this is where the city steps in to regulate the companies much in the same way that the government regulates (or at least should regulate) telecom companies or utilities. They should be allowed to turn a profit, but they can’t expect that every single customer will be profitable.

This could create a political dilemma ala the Uber/Lyft debacle of 2016. Because there is no state or federal regulatory framework for scooter companies, every city is on its own, and the scooter companies could threaten to leave if a certain city is not allowing them to maximize profits.

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