It's not all coasting as San Diego works out new rules for dockless rides. The city has to balance climate action goals with the needs of citizens who feel they've been pushed off the sidewalk by the growing fleet of bikes and scooters.
A class-action lawsuit filed against the city and scooter companies in January claims the sidewalk-jostle violates the rights of the disabled and seeks to have the devices removed from sidewalks. At the same time, riders face a dearth of protected lanes to help them move safely into the streets, .
On Feb 20, the San Diego Active Transportation & Infrastructure Committee voted unanimously to forward recommendations for regulating the dockless industry to the full city council. "Our goal with these regulations is to make companies and their riders more responsible, more safe and more accountable," said mayoral representative Greg Block, who outlined the proposal to regulate an industry that began here with shared bikes in Feb 2018, and has since folded in electric bikes and scooters.
San Diego now has six dockless companies and what the city estimates are about 20,000 shared bikes, e-bikes and scooters. To qualify for a permit, companies must accept a set of rules that focus on speed limits; device staging and parking; city indemnification; rider education; data sharing; and fees.
For one, companies must make their devices slow to 8 mph, using remote control "geofencing" in designated zones on the boardwalks in Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla, plus Spanish Landing and Petco, Balboa, Mission Bay and NTC parks. In the Embarcadero and Martin Luther King Jr Promenade downtown, which are pedestrian-only, scooters will be slowed to 3 mph. The city considers it unsafe to bring them to a complete stop in those areas.
These boardwalk rules apply to the motorized and non-motorized scooters and bikes, but motorized vehicles are not allowed on sidewalks.
The rules limit the current staging of rows of 8 or more devices to four in any one location, and add a 40-foot buffer between groups of staged devices. The number can exceed four only in on-street dockless parking corrals, like the one just installed on 11th & J downtown.
Parking within 6 feet of a bus or trolley stop is out. "While we want them near transit, they should not impede access to buses and trolleys." Riders will be prevented from ending rides in busy areas on the boardwalks, around Petco Park and the Embarcadero, to reduce the number of devices left there.
The companies must agree to hold the city harmless and keep liability insurance of two million dollars per occurrence and a four-million-dollar umbrella policy. Each device will have to display messages that riding on sidewalks is prohibited and stating the age requirement for use of the device (motorized scooters require a driver's license).
Data sharing from the companies will help with climate action reporting and SANDAG's mobility planning. The permits will be issued twice a year, and the fee will be announced at the next public hearing. Each company will pay $150 per device annually to operate in the city's right of way, an amount based on what other U.S. cities charge, which ranges from $10-$365 per device annually. Ours, Block said, will help manage fleet size and "act as a defacto cap."
What about all the complaints about improperly parked or dumped devices? "The city will encourage residents to use a Get it Done app" to report them, Block said. Companies will have three hours to remove the device, or the city may impound it. Records will be kept of violations, and the city can revoke permits.
It's not enough for Jonathan Freeman, founder of the group Safe Walkways, which created its own proposal. Theirs calls for riders to stay off the sidewalk, "a law already in place in California, but not often enforced," he said. Freeman blasted the scooters for turning San Diego "into a place where people are afraid to go for a walk." Janet Rodgers, another group member, said the devices often block ramps and handicap zones. Allowing three hours for removal "is ludicrous. The sidewalk should be made readily available."
Safe Walkways wants to see the scooters placed, used and parked only in the street. Otherwise, Freeman predicted, this will turn into another "vacation rentals fiasco that will go straight to the courts the day the Council votes." As it is, riders are rightfully confused since the equipment is placed on sidewalks, inviting use where the ride is accessed even though motorized scooters can't legally ride there. The permitting agreement won't come into effect until June, Freeman said; "we still have time" to make this change.
Ann Murphy, a member of the Cortez Hill Active Residents group, agreed that scooters don't belong on sidewalks. "Full implementation of the mobility plan will take care of some of these problems," she said. The companies touted their devices for reducing emissions from short car trips, and creating affordable transport. Among their recommended changes are tweaks to the fees, insurance requirements and city indemnification, and staging more devices.
Councilmember Cate criticized the 4 x 40 device staging (groups of 4 devices 40 feet apart), calling it unenforceable. Additionally, there are currently no dedicated funds for enforcement. Lyft scooter manager Kyle Zuvella said their company delivers most scooters outside downtown, to put them where they're needed, saying they strive to help low-income riders with a $5 monthly pass. Lyft recommends lowering the $150 device fee to around $100 — or giving incentives to companies that aid low-income areas.
Tyrone Childs spoke in support of Lime, saying for those stretched for gas dollars, the motorized scooter "is one of the best things we can use today." Maya Rosas, policy director for Circulate San Diego, suggested adding a line item to boost education. "The funds received from scooter companies are not going to be enough to make our streets safer. But the city's existing transportation budget can."
In 2018, she noted, 34 pedestrians died on San Diego streets. "Scooters are not the cause of these fatalities."