UT Austin Uses T2’s Flex Software to Manage Scooters on Campus
From one of the first noted community bicycle programs in Amsterdam in 1965 to the global popularization of bike sharing in the late 2000s to the recent rise of rentable electric scooters, people across the world are turning to micromobility to navigate urban areas, make short trips, or cover the “last mile” of their commute.
Austin, Texas, home to the University of Texas at Austin, has seen rapid growth in the last two decades and has become a technology and cultural center in the United States. Naturally, scooter-sharing companies were drawn to the city, with its’ tech-savvy population and UT Austin’s urban campus with over 50,000 students. Soon after companies were permitted to operate in the city in the spring of 2018, 7 operators had launched over 3,000 scooters across Austin.
With thousands of scooters being dropped in and around campus in a short period of time, UT Austin Parking and Transportation Services needed to come up with a plan quickly. They worked with university administration to develop rules and regulations around scooter use on campus, including where scooters can and cannot be operated, approved parking areas, and impound and storage fees to be charged to the scooter companies.
Once rules and regulations around scooter use were defined, UT Austin began the implementation process. Enforcement officers would tag scooters found in violation, drop them off in an impound room, and then return to the office with a paper form listing all their citations. Then, parking staff would manually enter the data into spreadsheets. This was a very tedious and time-consuming process.
“The biggest challenge was managing all of the documentation that went along with all of the impounded scooters, from the locations, dates and times they were picked up, and which company’s scooter we had impounded,” said Blanca Gamez, UT Austin Associate Director, Administration/Transportation.
Another challenge with manual tracking was the fluidity of the impounding process. The number of impounded scooters could fluctuate not only day by day, but hour by hour and even minute by minute. “We might be talking to a company and saying, for example, that we have 17 of your scooters ready for pickup, and then they show up and it’s now 37. That number is just so incredibly fluid depending on what’s being picked up and what’s being brought back,” Gamez explained. “And then on top of that, we might show that we have 17 scooters ready for impound, but 17 scooters may not be in the impound room. If an enforcement officer picks up a scooter in the morning, they may not drop it off until that afternoon.”
Additionally, campus administration did not like how scattered the scooters were across campus, and wanted a more organized platform for tracking them. “Trying to figure out where scooters are and where they’re parking became a little bit more difficult because everything was done on paper versus having a system that would allow us to generate reports,” Gamez stated.
Gamez and the UT Austin parking team knew that as more and more scooters were put on the street, paper tracking and manual data entry were not going to be feasible. “As we had the ability to grow and think about our practices, we got a little bit smarter and decided to do some electronic tracking,” Gamez said.
With T2’s Flex software and Enforcement App, UT Austin has taken their scooter management operation online. Using the unique QR code printed on each scooter as an identifier, enforcement officers are able to issue citations from their handheld devices, just as they would for a vehicle. The scooter and citation information is then automatically stored in UT Austin’s T2 database and imported into Flex.
Parking staff are able to go into Flex and easily look up a scooter, see the day, time, and location it was impounded, and view contextual pictures. They can also pull reports for specific citation numbers, such as an impounded scooter, and see all the information for every scooter in violation that is unpaid. “Instead of creating a spreadsheet with all of the QR codes and all of the citation numbers, and then going and grabbing the contextual pictures, which is really labor intensive, we can now just pull reports for specific citations,” Gamez stated.
UT Austin has also given the scooter companies access to the data being tracked in Flex, as well as the ability to pay their fees online at any time, through their online citation portal. “They can go in and use their company name as a search term and bring up all of their outstanding citations with all of the information they need, including pictures,” Gamez explained. “It’s worked out really well not only for them to be proactive in paying, but to also gather the information they need.”
Additionally, Gamez and team have been able to use location data from citations in Flex, as well as GPS data provided by the scooter companies and user feedback, to see where there are higher densities of scooters parking, helping UT Austin determine where preferred parking areas should be placed or where additional parking may be needed.
“The overall burden of scooter management has definitely decreased on our end,” Gamez said. Prior to implementing electronic tracking in Flex, UT Austin was relying on just Gamez and one other person for all scooter management issues. Now, anybody in the office can easily look up information and run reports, which has helped decrease the burden on any one individual. “We get information requests left and right every single day about scooters. The ability for anybody to go in and answer those questions definitely helps.”
The speed at which UT Austin can find information has also improved significantly. Previously, Gamez and team could only provide scooter companies with updates every two weeks or so, as they would have to manually collect all the information and photos for each citation. “That takes an incredibly long time with the amount of impounds we had on our campus,” Gamez stated. Now, a scooter company can reach out to request a report and receive it within the hour.
These improvements in process have led to a strong relationship between UT Austin and the scooter companies, who have been cooperative every step of the way. Some scooter companies have even been proactively making changes based on the information that UT Austin has provided through Flex. “They saw that lots of scooters were being left in areas that were not approved, so they blocked out those areas completely and made them a no-ride, no-park zone,” Gamez explained.
UT Austin has also seen a decrease in violations now that the campus community knows how serious they are when it comes to impounding scooters and charging fines. “When the campus community saw us out in the field doing impounds and collecting scooters, it was like night and day from one day to the next as far as people complying with the rules and regulations and generally trying to park in the correct manner,” Gamez said.
“My biggest recommendation is to keep a clear and open channel of communication with the companies,” Gamez stated. “We speak with them on daily basis, whether it’s on email, over the phone, or with their field teams here on campus. I think keeping that clear channel of communication will go a really long way in the success of scooter management on campus and making sure that everybody is on the same page.”
Gamez also noted the importance of being receptive to ideas from the scooter companies. “They’ve pitched ideas to us, and we’ve run those ideas up the flagpole and gotten approval, and it’s changed the way we’ve managed certain operations here on campus. They’re the ones that asked us if there was a way to create a portal for them so that they didn’t have to continuously ask us for information.”