San Diego, widely known for its hands-off policing of e-scooters, is equally notorious among medics and insurance companies for rising shattered bone and head injury rates among the daring who partake in the high-speed sidewalk sport.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer, whose charity fund One San Diego recently received a $12,299 contribution from Neutron Holdings, the San Mateo-based parent of LimeBike, has been particularly slow among big-city mayors to address the controversy, unforthcoming with inside information and content to wait for the city council to further address the problem in the new year.
Meanwhile, other urban areas have been getting aggressive, opening their public records to scooter skeptics, and launching studies to determine just how bad the problem really is. Washington, D.C. is already out with audit results providing a decidedly mixed picture of the latest transportation fad. “Our demonstration period sought to answer a number of questions,” writes D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser in her introduction to the December 18 report. “Could people be trusted to use these new devices safely? How would the competition for customers impact Capital Bikeshare and other established modes of transportation? Would dockless companies increase mobility options for low-income residents and the unbanked?” The findings of the year-long assessment, which lasted from September 2017 through August of 2018 and included rancorous public input, were not reassuring. Though the District “required information on all safety incidents and crashes,” there was chronic trouble with “getting complete data from all companies.” Added the report, “Data compliance issues made it difficult to gauge the performance of the program at times and have highlighted that full and complete data is crucial.”
Bad e-fleet maintenance was revealed to be a problem. “Only 68 percent of bikes had appropriately inflated tires” which would “force users to exert more energy during trips,” the study noted. Seven of the 181 vehicles audited “were found to have deficient brakes.” Eight percent were missing rear light/reflectors, “a key safety feature.”
Planning in the dark
San Diego community planning groups, which frequently become bitter battlefields between real estate developers and homeowners opposed to boosting rental density, have been hit with an audit charging they regularly violate state and city transparency laws, among a bevy of other legal and policy transgressions. “We could not verify that members had not exceeded their term limits due to incomplete rosters and ambiguous guidance on retaining election results,” says the December 13 report by interim city auditor Kyle Elser. “We were also unable to determine whether renters, which we found make up approximately half of the community populations we reviewed, were represented.”
As a result, “there is a risk that renters may not be adequately represented” on the panels. “These issues are exacerbated by the lack of adequate oversight, guidance, and training on the part of the City.”
Regarding details of who is currently on the planning group boards, auditors say information was hard to find. “The City had 40 of 42 rosters. We found that 30 of the 40 rosters did not include the minimum information (start year of service, term end, eligibility category): 24 were missing the start date of service, 15 did not show seat or eligibility category, and 10 did not show the term expiration.” None of the groups “could provide enough past rosters for us to verify that current members had not exceeded their term limits,” per the report. “Furthermore, no groups provided evidence of a two-thirds vote for members elected past their term limits, and no groups provided election results to verify that vacancies existed.” Worse yet, auditors say, “we found that many meeting minutes did not consistently record the votes taken on each action item with the group members who voted for, against, or abstained on the item.”
Part of the problem is lack of public money, per the report. “Unlike other cities we looked at, the City of San Diego’s Community Planning Groups are operated by volunteers with a minimal amount of City funding or guidance.” Los Angeles, auditors found, “provides each group $37,000 per year and has a department dedicated to group oversight and management budgeted at $2.8 million per year.”