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L.A. To Enforce E-Scooter Moratorium Outside Of Approved Pilot Areas

Next week, L.A. plans to start enforcing a dockless device moratorium outside of approved pilot areas. Image via Santa Monica Next

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This article supported by Los Angeles Bicycle Attorney as part of a general sponsorship package. All opinions in the article are that of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of LABA. Click on the ad for more information.

Based on a discussion at this morning's L.A. City Council Public Safety Committee, it looks like the city of L.A. will be moving to shut down dockless e-scooter operations in many areas. At the urging of councilmember Mitch Englander, the city Transportation Department Chief Sustainability Officer Marcel Porras committed that LADOT would send cease-and-desist letters "as soon as next week" to companies operating outside of approved pilot areas.

The Public Safety Committee had agendized City Councilmember Paul Koretz' motion to ban e-scooters citywide. Ultimately, the committee unanimously voted against approving Koretz' motion. This was not so much a vote in favor of e-scooters, but an acknowledgement that a citywide ban was not needed, because the council had effectively already approved one.

In her August 16 L.A. Times article L.A. officials moved to ban rental scooters in March. So why are they everywhere? Laura Nelson broke the news that the L.A. City Council, in a discussion on dockless bike-share, approved an an amended motion (council file 17-1125) banning "dockless transportation programs." The motion, approved in March, reads in part:

IMPOSE 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.

As the Times reports, the language was intended as a ban on new dockless bike-share, but that "the language was broad enough to apply to... Bird and Lime scooters." The language may arguably even be broad enough to ban cars, buses, airplanes, skateboards, privately-owned bicycles, and maybe even shoes, escalators, stairs... but the issue before the council is e-scooters.

At this morning's meeting, councilmember Mitch Englander pressed Porras as to why LADOT had not enforced the council-approved dockless transportation moratorium. Porras initially responded that multiple departments have roles in enforcing such a moratorium, with Bureau of Sanitation responsible for impounding devices, and LAPD responsible for enforcing laws. Englander persisted, requesting that LADOT start the process by sending letters to companies currently operating illegally. Porras responded that LADOT would issue the letters next week.

E-scooter sentiment on the committee was somewhat mixed. Englander has been pusing for banning shared devices after Lime Bike began operations in Northridge. Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell weighed in today in very clear opposition to scooters, saying that e-scooters are "endangering the public" and that he expected them to cause a "terrible tragedy" to happen at "any moment." O'Farrell called for rules much stricter than apply to cars: "immediate impound" of e-scooters blocking rights-of-way, with "no limits on confiscation."

The remaining committee members - councilmembers Monica Rodriguez, David Ryu, and Joe Buscaino - have been generally supportive of shared devices.

LADOT's shared mobility device regulations have made their way through committee approvals, and could come to the full council any day now. Once approved, they would go into effect in 120 days. Until those are approved the city will likely be reining in e-scooter operations in non-pilot areas, likely especially Koretz's westside neighborhoods. Lime Bike will likely depart from Cal State Northridge.

Enforcing a city moratorium will likely clip the wings of e-scooters' prominence, but they are unlikely to disappear. E-scooters should still be available in some areas - probably just in the districts of supportive councilmembers, including Buscaino, Mike Bonin and probably José Huizar. The near-term patchwork approach may be confusing to users, though, who may not know when they are passing council district boundaries within the city of L.A.

Addendum 8/23: Two additional developments have come to light soon after this article was posted:

    1. Mentioned in the second to last paragraph above, the city's proposed e-scooter/e-bike/bike-share regulations are now scheduled for a full city council vote next Tuesday August 28. If approved, companies currently operating scooters/bikes would be governed by temporary conditional use permits for 120 days until the regulations kick in. Update 8/27 - It was scheduled last week, but as of this morning, the item is not on tomorrow's council agenda. It's not clear why - or when it will be heard.
    2. Though the city can enact a pilot program more-or-less immediately under just city council approval, enacting a full-on moratorium would need more steps than just the March council approval. To be legally enforceable, typically the city council would approve what it wants, then the City Attorney would draft legal ordinance language which would later come back to the council for approval. As the recent Times article states "The City Council never took the final step to turn the motion into a law" so it does not appear that the moratorium motion would be legally enforceable today. 

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