Austin scooter war: LimeBike joins Bird in the fray


An executive with Bird scooters says the company believes that current Austin law does not allow it to be fined for putting out the electric scooters, but that the company welcomes the creation of a law permitting the scooters to operate here.

“They’ve actually been very cordial with us,” David Estrada, Bird’s chief legal officer and government relations head, said of city of Austin officials. “They don’t have an ordinance on the books right now that deals with this type of vehicle. I think they do want to accommodate us.”

Estrada said it is his understanding that the full Austin City Council will have a hearing, and perhaps a vote, on the proposed ordinance as soon as April 26. Austin ordinances normally take far longer to craft and move through the city’s gauntlet of commissions and committees.

EARLIER: A scooter war has broken out in Austin.

LimeBike, which had held off launching a dockless bike program in Austin while company officials and representatives from other dockless bike companies negotiated with city staff, Monday put more than 200 electric rental scooters on Austin streets. The San Mateo, Calif.-based company, according to an April 16 letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and City Manager Spencer Cronk, had lost patience with what it saw as the city’s timid reaction to Bird Rides putting out similar scooters on April 5.

“It is now apparent that our competitor will be allowed to operate without any significant repercussions,” LimeBike CEO and founder Tony Sun said in the letter. Sun’s letter says the company has “Lime-S” scooters on the ground in San Diego, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco.

LimeBike does not intend at this point to put its rental bikes out on the street, instead waiting for the city to launch a pilot program later this spring. City officials have said that any companies that put out dockless rental bikes before that pilot begins would be barred from participating in it.

Bird officials were not immediately available for comment.

The city said last week that it had impounded, through April 12, 55 of Bird’s scooters but then released them back to the company without fines. Over the weekend, the black-and-white scooters were spotted throughout the South Congress entertainment district, on the street and on sidewalks. Bird officials had said last week that it would endeavor to have its customers use and leave the scooters only in the street.

The city of Austin, perhaps in a concession to the idea that it lacks the authority to fine such companies for the scooters, appears to be rushing a new scooter law through the Austin City Council. The council’s Mobility Committee, at a Tuesday meeting, will consider an ordinance that would beef up existing city laws having to do with blocking sidewalks and streets, and commercial use of city right of way.

previous version of the agenda did not include the scooter item.

That ordinance, once it clears the Mobility Committee, is then expected to make a much quicker than normal trip to the the full City Council for debate and enactment.



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