While Austin’s streets were relatively quiet during the pandemic, the dockless electric scooters that attracted love and fury when they appeared in 2018 were neglected by users.
But now that people are getting back to life as usual, smartphone-enabled vehicles called “micro-mobility devices” are making a comeback.
The number of scooter passengers in Austin last month saw a whopping 3.151 percent increase from last year’s pandemic. People made more than 343,000 scooter trips in May, compared to around 10,500 trips in April 2020.
“We’re seeing people leaving and wanting to get out and get around,” said Joseph Al-Hajeri, manager of the mobility demand program.
But usage has yet to return to the heights seen in 2019. The record was set in September of that year, when Austin made more than 509,000 scooter trips.
lime, Austin’s largest scooter operator, says leisure users are the fastest to come back for a ride. But the workers, many of whom still have a five-second commute between the kitchen and the home office, were slow to return.
“I think we’re going to see a slower transition in office travel,” said Nico Probst, Lime’s director of government affairs. “We hope that a lot of these office trips will start coming back as offices come back online and people start going back to their employers.”
MetroBike, the government-supervised bicycle rental program formerly known as the B-Cycle, is also making a resurgence. MetroBike recorded record usage in March, April and May, but it is still overshadowed by the popularity of scooters.
“We’re excited to see where this is going,” said Chad Ballentine, vice president of Capital Metro, at a recent meeting of the Austin Mobility Committee. Capital Metro and the city oversee MetroBike’s operations through the non-profit organization Bike Share of Austin.
From now on, each new MetroBike will include a battery-powered electric motor to aid propulsion. E-bikes are three to four times more popular than conventional MetroBike bikes, Ballentine said.
An increase in micromobility devices also means an increase in complaints. Calls to 311 on scooters and e-bikes were 13 times higher in May than a year earlier.
“People leave them everywhere,” Kenneth Gholson with Wheel labs he said as he picked up e-bikes overturned on the sidewalk in front of the Austin Convention Center. “The city is asking me to clean this up because it’s on the runway and it’s a danger.”
“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “You look up and down the street and you have all kinds of e-bikes and scooters everywhere. That’s my job, cleaning it up. “
This story was produced as part of the Austin MonitorReporting partnership with KUT.
O Austin MonitorThe work is made possible by donations from the community. Although our reports do occasionally cover donors, we are careful to keep commercial and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available. on here, and our code of ethics is explained on here.