Council: At War on Two Wheels
More scooters, a possible interim deal with the APA, and more from City Hall
As if the city's Transportation Department didn't have enough on its hands with an electric scooter app flouting its dockless mobility pilot schedule, this past week it's also had to address a litany of peeved competitors who want in on the action if the Santa Monica-based Bird is going to be allowed to pre-empt the rules.
The most aggravated of them all may have been LimeBike, from San Mateo, Calif., which sent City Council a letter on April 10 essentially calling Bird a rule breaker and asking that all their scooters be impounded. Co-founder and CEO Toby Sun expressed a willingness to participate in the dockless mobility pilot, and asked that Bird be banned from doing so, since they had jumped the gun and deployed scooters without the city's approval.
"We cannot ignore the competitive challenge that Bird's launch in Austin is to our core business model of providing dock-free mobility to solve urban transportation challenges," the letter reads. "As such, we are considering our next steps as a company if the City of Austin is unable to vigorously enforce its dock-free mobility policies."
Six days later, LimeBike deployed its own fleet of about 200 scooters around Downtown, many of which were quickly picked up by curious UT students. The Transportation Department responded with an incisive memo acknowledging the two companies' actions and how they disrupted the pilot's initial timeline. "In order to forestall a predictable and unmanageable swamping of our streets with thousands of vehicles, ATD recommends a more nimble response than our previously expressed pilot timeframe," staff wrote. The department now suggests a May 1 kickoff for a pilot that will include a $30 permit on each scooter; a 500-permit limit; safety requirements; storage and parking standards; and access to aggregated travel, incident, and injury data.
Much as with Uber and Lyft, it's become abundantly clear that whatever Council decides to do about these disruptors, it has to do something. California entrepreneurs insist on it!
Interim Deal or No Deal?
The Austin Police Association and the city's Labor Relations team went back to the negotiating table on Monday with the interim deal the city proposed earlier in April still on the table. That amounts to a 1.25% lump sum increase for officers, in exchange for changes to the sick leave payout. The union views that effectively as a pay cut, and rejected the overture on April 3 and again at this week's session. The APA has until Monday to reverse its position and take the one-year deal before the offer expires.
That small impasse aside, the two sides are working steadily toward crafting language for a permanent contract. Other than promotions and some language that needs clearing up, the main topic remaining on the table is, unsurprisingly, the oversight. The city told union leaders on Monday that the June deadline for coming up with a best practice might not be realistic. Interim Police Monitor Farah Muscadin is still working the phones with various jurisdictions to make preliminary decisions on which cities they should visit and draw inspiration from. "We don't want to rush it," said Labor Relations Officer Deven Desai (himself just off an impermanent stint as police monitor).
Desai also said his team is deciding which other topics, such as discipline and drug testing, it might observe during the visits. Union reps responded that they weren't against the idea, but need to know upfront which areas the city is interested in asking about so they can send the right personnel on the trips. The two bodies are next expected to sit down together on April 30.
Back in the Saddle
After an off-week this week, following a meeting last week that featured just seven members, City Council returns with its next regular meeting on April 26, and there's already a few items of interest on the agenda. Members will consider continuing the extended live music hours for the Red River Cultural District, the successful six-month pilot that extended weekend hours for live music to help club owners within those boundaries.
The dais will also dive into membership requirements for the Planning Commission, and what it means for a commissioner to be "directly or indirectly connected with real estate and land development," as specified by the City Charter. Leslie Pool recently criticized the commission for containing too many members related to the development industry, who are supposed to make up less than two-thirds of the board. Also, CodeNEXT watchers should look out for a resolution laying out the CodeNEXT public hearing process (the dates of which we've got online). Fun stuff. Also expected is a slate of items concerning the homeless in our area. See "Beside the Point" for more on that.
Last week's meeting was helmed by Alison Alter in the absence of both Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, and was intentionally light on controversial subjects. At one point, Jimmy Flannigan and Greg Casar could be overheard playfully considering whether or not to pull a zoning case out at random and debate it in order to liven things up a bit.
Thankfully it never came to that. Instead, the mood lifted considerably after a woman approached the podium during Citizen Communication, put her phone to the microphone, and began to play a full three minutes of Foreigner's "Cold as Ice."