UT unveils new scooter regs

Screen Shot 2019-01-23 at 3.10.32 PM.pngIt’s safe to say the University of Texas is less impressed with electric scooters than the City of Austin.

This rule is effective immediately:

The university will begin impounding scooters improperly parked along Speedway and other campus malls, as well as those blocking sidewalks, impeding pedestrian accessibility, or strewn in courtyards, doorways and stairwells. The charge to companies is $150 per impound. As a result, scooter companies may pass these fees along to responsible riders. As a reminder, scooters should be parked at bike racks only.

These will come later in the semester:

Requiring that all scooters will be governed to operate at no more than 8 miles per hour on campus

Parking zones will be marked specifically for scooters in 10 areas across campus (as a pilot project; additional scooter parking zones may be determined at a later date)

Prohibiting faculty and staff from work-related use of commercial scooters

Designated parking zones on campus seems reasonable, as long as there are enough. The university should settle on a maximum distance from scooter parking. I would suggest a quarter-mile, with an emphasis on putting the parking spots even closer to the highest-trafficked spots on campus.

An 8 mph limit is draconian, and I hope to God this doesn’t give the city any ideas. That speed is far slower than one would expect to go on a bike. While bike speed varies based on skill, conditions etc, research has suggested that 11-12 mph is what you’d expect from a typical city biker riding on a flat surface. And of course you go much, much faster when you’re going downhill. And of course, UT is also home to roads where cars travel at speeds much higher than 8 mph. (UT has authority over those roads … they are not the city’s right-of-way)

To be clear, UT is not simply telling people that they’re not allowed to go faster than 8 mph. They’re telling scooter companies to set 8 mph as the maximum speed. Currently, most of the companies set the max speed at 15 mph. The companies will likely have to set up geofences that disable speeds at higher than 8 mph once a scooter enters the campus zone.

One problem with reducing the speed: it makes scooter trips nearly twice as expensive, since it will take you nearly twice as long to get to your destination.

As for “prohibiting faculty and staff from work-related use” of scooters… I’m still not clear what that means. This is what UT spokeswoman Olga Finneran tells me:

The university has not yet drafted specific rules language around this, however, like any employer it has a number of policy requirements designed to ensure safe working conditions. On a campus of this size, it is not unusual for staff or faculty to travel to various campus locations for meetings, to deliver documents, clean facilities, teach classes. All of these activities could be considered work-related, as they would be subject to workers compensation claims if the employee was injured.

So does that mean a professor or teaching assistant can’t scooter across campus to a class? Finneran did not have an answer, and noted that the rules have not yet been drafted.

Again, is UT planning on barring employees from driving cars for “work-related use”?

I am far more sympathetic to strict regulations on UT campus than citywide. These types of regulations citywide would make scooters a much less attractive transportation option for people who aren’t living/working in areas that are as walkable as campus.

Campus is still a relatively limited space with a very large number of people walking on sidewalks at certain times. But these rules seem like an overreaction. It will be interesting to see how students react. Student government did take part in the recommendations that guided these new rules, but if I’m not convinced that student government reflects the opinion of the average student.

I asked the folks at the West Campus Neighborhood Association, a new group aimed at representing student residents of the area, what they thought:

The city transportation department declined to comment on the matter.

One thought on “UT unveils new scooter regs

  1. 8 mph is reasonable given scooters are often ridden on sidewalks. The speed limit for cars is 15mph. I know because I got a ticket for going 113% over the speed limit early one Sunday morning when I decided to get nistalgic and cut through campus. I am pretty sure that was the first ticket the police officer had written. I mean who sets up a speed trap with a radar gun at 6am in the morning? Maybe they’ll post the 8mph for scooters and bust out their radar guns on the sidewalks.

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