September 29, 2022

Internet Business Newswire

Global Business News

San Diego may make scooter companies more accountable under new business model

Electronic scooter companies in San Diego would face greater accountability for misbehaving riders and abandoned scooters under a new business partnership model that city officials unveiled Wednesday.

The new model, which would put San Diego more in line with how Los Angeles and San Francisco handle scooters, would also reduce the number of scooter companies below the six now operating in the city.

Instead of an unlimited number of companies applying every two years to operate under city regulations that have been criticized as too lenient, city officials would negotiate individual contracts with a small number of companies.

Those companies would be chosen through a request-for-proposals process that would allow city officials to choose companies based on how they would police their own riders and how much they would pay for the chance to operate here.

Other criteria would include their commitment to equity, which includes providing scooters in low-income areas instead of just at the beach and downtown, and whether they would provide devices beyond scooters.

City officials have expressed interest in more electronic bikes and cargo bikes, which allow people to carry groceries or children. City staff would pick the companies, but the City Council would approve the individual contracts.

The council’s Active Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday endorsed the city shifting to a request-for-proposals model. But the committee rejected a set of new interim scooter regulations proposed by city staff.

The proposed interim regulations were criticized by members of the public as ineffective and seriously flawed. The only people who spoke in support were employees of scooter companies.

Committee members praised city staff for trying to increase accountability, but they said it makes no sense to put rules in place if the city doesn’t have the ability to enforce them.

Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera said San Diego should be charging scooter companies fees large enough to cover the city’s costs for enforcement, data analysis and any related efforts.

“I want to make sure when companies are doing business here in San Diego they are paying their fair share,” Elo-Rivera said. “Public space is essential to the operation of their business.”

Councilman Joe LaCava said he wouldn’t support any new regulations that didn’t ban scooters from parking on city sidewalks, which community leaders have been lobbying for.

Scooters are banned from sidewalks in downtown, primarily because scooter corrals have been created on many downtown streets. But they are allowed to park on sidewalks elsewhere in the city.

“If it’s good enough for downtown, I think it’s good enough for every community,” LaCava said.

Those comments echo community leaders, including an anti-scooter group called Safe Walkways.

“Put scooters in the street where they belong, not on sidewalks,” said Jonathan Freeman, the group’s leader.

Safe Walkways last week proposed a series of new scooter regulations. The city proposal that was rejected by the council committee did not include most of the Safe Walkways proposals.

In addition to a sidewalk ban, Safe Walkways would prohibit scooters in much of the Gaslamp Quarter, impose a 9 p.m. scooter curfew and provide the Police Department with money for aggressive scooter enforcement.

Those proposals would help reduce complaints from residents about abandoned scooters, underage riders, riding against traffic and scooters with more than one person aboard, group leaders said.

“There’s absolutely no consequences for any of these scooter companies,” said Mission Beach resident Cathy Ives. “We have scooters on our sidewalks. We have scooters going the wrong way down our streets.”

Scooters were banned from the city’s beach boardwalks in February 2020.

Safe Walkways also endorses the switch to a request-for-proposals process for scooter companies.

The city plans to release its request for proposals this summer and will choose one or more scooter companies this fall, said Alyssa Muto, director of the city’s Mobility Department. Proposed contracts would be presented to the City Council this winter.

Muto said city staff have done significant preparation work.

“We have conducted benchmarking and peer city reviews from scooter companies across the country,” she said.

The scooter companies now operating in San Diego are Bird, Lyft, Spin, Wheels, Link and Veo.

In 2019, the total number of annual scooter trips was 4.8 million, an average of 13,000 per day. The average number of trips per device was 1.8 per day, with an average trip distance of 1 mile and an average duration of 10.7 minutes.

In 2020, the numbers were skewed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Annual trips dropped to 1.4 million and the average number of scooters on the streets each day dropped from 9,000 to 3,000.

Before the pandemic, scooter companies were contributing about $1.5 million annually to the city in fees and permits. During the pandemic, that dropped to about $1 million.

The city spends more than $400,000 per year paying a company called Sweep to pick up abandoned or illegally parked scooters when they are reported, including reports through the city’s Get it Done! tipster app.