Scooters Under Scrutiny

A row of Bird scooters lined up outside Santa Monica City Hall prior to the June 12, City Council meeting. Photo: Sam Catanzaro

L.A. City imposes moratorium, Santa Monica rejects scooter cap. 

By Sam Catanzaro

On Tuesday night, June 12, in front of a packed council chamber, Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved a 16-month pilot program that will allow dockless, shared mobility rental companies like Bird and Lime to continue operating in Santa Monica.

“There’s no denying the popularity and ease of shared mobility devices,” said Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer. “This pilot approach will allow us to understand usage and operations in order to create a long-term program that establishes a safe, equitable and sustainable mobility option.”

The pilot program, which will begin September 17, establishes a dynamic cap on the number of devices a company can have within Santa Monica. Operators can exceed the cap if they can show that each device is being used at least three times a day. It still unclear how many devices operators will be allowed to deploy once the program begins. Electric scooter and bike rental companies celebrated the decision, as the council members rejected a proposal by Santa Monica city staffers that had called for an initial cap of 1,500 total scooters for the entire city.

A protestor and their sign in front of Santa Monica City Hall on June 12, at a rally organized by Bird. Photo: Sam Catanzaro

While Santa Monica lawmakers were in the spotlight in their effort to regulate these devices, Los Angeles lawmakers quietly passed legislation that appears to ban all forms of dockless transit rentals. On March 21, Los Angeles City Council tacked on an amending motion – to another piece of legislation to regulate dockless bike share – that imposes,” a moratorium, with the exception of existing pilot projects initiated either through Council motion or with the Councilmember of the district’s support, on dockless transportation programs until a regulatory system that protects Los Angeles communities can be established.”

Despite the adoption of this amendment, the number of shared mobility rental devices has increased in the time since its passage and the City has not been actively enforcing it. Furthermore, on June 7, Lime announced the launch of their new line of scooters to go along their bikes with the backing of Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino.

“This past weekend, I partnered with Lime on a Lime-S Scooter pop up event in my district. The reactions we received were overwhelmingly positive,” Buscaino said in a statement released by Lime. “I applaud Lime’s efforts to partner with government and community leaders to address our region’s unique urban mobility needs.”

At odds with this message, however, is a cease and desist letter the City of Los Angeles General Manager Seleta J. Reynolds sent Bird’s Cheif Legal Council David Estrada on June 8.

“Since Bird has no existing pilot in the City of Los Angeles you are in violation of the citywide moratorium. Please remove any and all vehicles that you have in the City of Los Angeles immediately,” Reynolds wrote. “Should the LADOT, Street Services, or any City Agency that oversees and manages the streets or sidewalks, view your scooters on the sidewalk, whether or not they are attended, the Scooters will be confiscated and impounded, with all costs, fees and potential reimbursement to be payable by Bird.”

The letter gave Bird until the close of business on June 15 to provide written confirmation that steps have been taken to abate the situation. Birds still remain in the City, however, and Yo! Venice reached out to Bird asking if they are complying with this letter and to the City asking if they are going to start impounding devices since the June 15 deadline has passed.

Abraham White, a spokesperson for Bird responded saying the company can not comment on this matter. L.A. City did not respond.

Despite a moratorium on dockless transit devices, Bird scooters remain as popular as ever in Venice. Photo: Morgan Genser.

“We applaud the City of Santa Monica for formally embracing innovative transportation, and look forward to collaborating with them as they work to further establish regulations around an environmentally-clean, shared mobility program for scooters,” wrote Lime Spokesperson Mary Caroline Pruitt in a statement, referring to Santa Monica’s program.

Santa Monica’s program will permit up to four rental companies – two electric scooter services and two electric bike services – to operate within Santa Monica. Operators will be chosen through an open application process that begins in July. In addition to creating a dynamic cap, the program levies fees on vendors and requires them to increase the safety of devices by educating riders, share real-time utilization data with the City, ensure fair and equal distribution of devices while instructing operators to develop a system that will remedy improper parking.

Santa Monica city staffers had initially recommended capping the number of devices in the city to 500 per operator and 1,500 total but after pushback from members of the public and councilmembers, this hard cap was rejected. Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and Councilmember Terry O’Day voiced concern that the cap may lead to an unequal distribution of scooters, as providers would be encouraged to put devices only in high-density areas.

Davis also expressed concern that a hard cap would be a potentially fruitless effort in Santa Monica.

“What happens when people ride into Santa Monica from Venice or West Los Angeles or Pacific Palisades? I’ve seen scooters in all three places. Do we put up a wall and say ‘I’m sorry that’s scooter number 250, you can’t come in’? I don’t understand how we enforce a cap on a mobility item,” Davis said.

Supporters of electric scooters showed up at rally organized by Bird at Santa Monica City Hall prior the City Council meeting. Photo: Sam Catanzaro.