COVID-19 Watch

Thousands of Austin dockless scooters zoom off streets due to COVID-19

Thousands of Austin dockless scooters zoom off streets due to COVID-19

Lime-S scooter bike
Lime and Bird have both removed their e-scooter fleets. Photo courtesy of Lime

Cars and trucks aren’t the only vehicles that are scarce on Austin roads these days. Operators have pulled thousands of dockless electric scooters off the streets of Austin in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

These moves come as dockless scooter traffic in Austin tumbled by more than 500,000 trips in March 2020 versus March 2019, according to City of Austin data. Last year, riders in Austin racked up nearly 5.35 million trips. Five dockless scooter companies are licensed to do business in Austin.

Lime, one of Austin's five scooter operators tells CultureMap that it has temporarily taken all 5,000 of its Austin scooters out of service. In a March 21 blog post, Lime said it was winding down service in all of its global markets except South Korea. It’s unclear when Lime bikes will return to Austin streets. 

Meanwhile, Bird has temporarily removed an unspecified number of its e-scooters in Austin.

“To help discourage non-critical mobility during this time and to help flatten the COVID-19 curve, we are temporarily reducing our fleet size in Austin,” Bird says in a March 30 statement provided to CultureMap. “Our decision to reduce the fleet size is very fluid as the response to and recommendations regarding COVID-19 evolve and is in line with voluntary, as well as mandatory, measures set by local governments for businesses.”

Bird says it’s communicating with Austin officials about properly operating its remaining fleet of scooters and about the timing for bringing back its full fleet of “safe, clean transportation alternatives.”

Lime is the largest so-called “micromobility” company in the world; Bird ranks second.

Another operator, Spin, said in a March 23 blog post that it will keep serving Austin “as long as it remains safe for our employees and the public.” Spin remains up and running in some markets but has paused service in others.

A representative of Spin couldn’t be reached for comment.

Spin debuted as a bike-sharing company during the 2017 edition of SXSW. Ford Motor Co. bought Spin in 2018 for $100 million.

“We believe micromobility is necessary for some people now more than ever,” Spin said. “Some individuals still must complete essential trips to and from hospitals, grocery stores, and banks. In fact, we have seen local governments declare micromobility an essential service, and we have seen individuals choose micromobility over public transportation because it allows for social distancing.”

In Austin, travel by dockless scooter and other means is temporarily prohibited unless the user is obtaining “essential” services.

Representatives of two other electric scooter operators in Austin — Lyft and Uber-owned Jump — couldn’t be reached for comment.

Dockless scooter providers that are still operating in Austin say they’ve stepped up their cleaning of scooters to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 crisis — including the cancelation of SXSW — has put a massive dent in scooter traffic in Austin. In March 2019, the Austin Transportation Department recorded 740,476 trip on the dockless bikes. By comparison, the department tallied more than 173,000 electric scooter trips in March 2020.