Mayor Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Garza, and City Council,
We write today to urge you to adjust the proposed per-ride fee for micromobility vehicles down considerably from the $0.40 proposed by staff to somewhere in the range of $0.10 to $0.15.
This matter is exceedingly small on the scale of the city budget: at approximately 2.5 million rides per year, a $0.40 fee would bring in $1m — a good budget for some things, but nowhere near enough to make a significant difference compared to the size of the need for safe micromobility infrastructure. And yet, by making Austin one of or perhaps even the single most expensive city to run a micromobility fleet in the entire world, this sum threatens to do great harm to the availability of micromobility for Austin’s citizens. This is counter to Austin’s goals to move to more climate-friendly transportation modes like micromobility.
Urban transportation is not an optimal public revenue stream. Public transportation is subsidized through tax funds, both bond funds for capital budgets and sales tax for operational budgets. Private transportation via cars is dependent on massive expenditures at every level of government to pay for highways, county roads, city roads, traffic signals, and the staff to maintain, optimize, clean, and police them.
Newer, cleaner modes of transportation are subsidized even more. The city of Austin grants drivers of electric vehicles not only all the benefits that it offers other owners of private automobiles, but additionally city-paid charging infrastructure, preferential treatment for buildings that install their own charging infrastructure, and thousands of dollars for each driver who purchases such a vehicle. These are the kinds of things a city does when it wants to nurture and grow a method of transportation.
And yet, this budget contemplates taxing micromobility users at a rate considerably higher than the general sales tax rate. Many studies have found that micromobility uses are often in direct competition with TNC companies for rides. This tax threatens to shift the balance between cars, scooters and bikes, back to cars, both directly by making scooters and e-bikes more expensive and indirectly, by reducing scooter and e-bike availability.
This mode of transportation remains young and vulnerable. If, over time, we are able to prove out that $0.10 or $0.15 is not too much to stop mode shift, we will have years ahead of us to adjust our rates. But $0.40 today is the sort of measure that could scale the industry back in Austin considerably.
Micromobility fleets are indeed a goose that lays golden eggs for the city. But the golden eggs they lay are not about dollars, but about achieving the city’s policy goals of mode shift and reducing our carbon footprint. More and more Austinites are beginning to see safe, all-ages bike lanes as being something for “us” and not just for “them.” Please nurture and grow this mode of transportation.
AURA Board of Directors