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Santa Monica City Council Unanimously Rejects Hard Cap on E-Scooters, Moves Forward with 16-Month Shared Mobility Pilot

Image via City of Santa Monica

This article first appeared at SBLA sister site Santa Monica Next.

Last night, the Santa Monica City Council unanimously rejected the staff proposal to cap the number of electric rental scooters in the city to 500 per operator and 1500 total. While the scooter cap could have been raised in the future, the council found that the cap was too hard and ran counter to the city's stated goals of reducing car dependency and increasing transportation options for residents and visitors.

“There’s no denying the popularity and ease of shared mobility devices that can help Santa Monica reach its goal of being a multimodal city,” said Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer. “Yet we must balance that with a serious need to hold companies accountable to ensure responsible behavior on our streets and sidewalks. 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 in Santa Monica.”

The Council did approve many of the city staff's recommendations for a 16-month pilot program for dockless, shared mobility devices, including e-scooters and e-bicycles. There will be a cap on the number of devices that changes based on the device usage. Staff assured the Council that the "dynamic cap" would not become a backdoor way for the city to institute its original proposal on the number of scooters or bikes in use.

To implement the dynamic cap, the vendors will be required to share data with the city in real-time. The data will also be used to assure that the scooters are spread throughout the city, and not just clustered in areas most frequented by tourists - in effect making sure that scooters and bikes are available for residents to use.

For its part Bird, who is both the city's first e-scooter operator and its largest, seems happy with the resolution.

"Bird and the city of Santa Monica share similar goals - eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and provide people alternative transportation options that reduce the number of cars used throughout the city," says Rebecca Hahn, Bird spokesperson. "During the Council meeting on Tuesday evening, members of the community saw this alignment come to life and were part of an important and productive discussion."

The pilot program will allow up to four providers in the city, split evenly between two scooter providers and two e-bike-share providers that could provide direct competition for the ubiquitous "Hulu Bikes" aka Breeze Bike Share funded by the city and Metro.

Responding to a concern by Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, who professed to ride the scooters herself, the existing providers promised to work with the city on ways to deliver helmets to users in a quicker way. Bird already provides helmets to users by mailing a helmet when requested, but will also work with the city to provide helmets for short-term users, including tourists.

The program will also provide solutions to some of the most common complaints that residents have about scooter programs in other cities: improperly parked scooters and no clear way to register complaints about unsafe scootering or parking.

The pilot will require operators to develop systems that will remedy improper parking, including pick up/drop off zones and incentives and enhance operator customer service and responsiveness to resident and user complaints, including a 24-hour hotline.

"As a result of the thoughtful and diligent work the city staff and Councilmembers performed, Santa Monica residents will continue to have access to e-scooters which serve as a reliable, inexpensive and environmentally friendly mode of transportation," continues Hahn.

The program will also include two of the least controversial portions of the originally proposed program.

The city will bring on two full-time employees – one program coordinator and one enforcement liaison – to implement the pilot program.

To pay for the program, each operator will be assessed a base operator fee of $20,000, and then a scalable per-device fee of $130 per year. Council directed staff to explore a possible use-of-public-space fee. The fees will be re-examined as the pilot program closes.

“A key component of this program’s success is the partnership with operators, ensuring a focus on rider safety and solutions that preserve our public spaces for everyone’s enjoyment,” said Anuj Gupta, Deputy City Manager and Director of Policy. “This collaborative approach will position us to develop policies that expand transportation options while respecting our community's needs and mobility demands.”

Vending permits for existing approved operators such as Bird and Lime expire at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2018. To facilitate a smooth transition to the pilot, Council passed an emergency ordinance last night requiring Fiscal Year 2018/19 permits for such operators to expire on September 16, 2018, just before the pilot kicks off on September 17, 2018.

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