The Bird, the Bird. The Bird is the word. (And then there’s Lime, of course).
Those two e-scooter companies are leaders in the latest disruptive industry to pop up in American cities, and investors are betting hundreds of millions of dollars that they will be as successful as Airbnb and Uber. Monday night, the City of West Hollywood, which continues to struggle with regulating home sharing and ride hailing services, will decide how to deal with electric scooter sharing.
An item on the Council’s agenda proposes to authorize electric scooters for a six-month test. In a memo to the Council, City Hall staffers note that “electric scooter sharing systems are emerging nationwide and provide viable mobility solutions in regions with heavy traffic congestion.”
The systems allow a user to download a mobile phone app to find a nearby scooter and then book it for a ride. Bird charges an initial fee of $1 and 15 cents for each minute of use. Riders are required to wear a helmet and be at least 18 years old. The scooters can travel up to 15 miles per hour. Bird and Lime and others use GPS and other technologies to track the locations of the scooters. Some West Hollywood residents are using their own scooters, which can be purchased online for as little as $99.
The electric scooter companies use what are called dockless parking. That means a user can leave the scooter anywhere he or she wants, and the company will track it through GPS and pick it up. Some require that the scooters be left in virtual “corrals,” or designated places.
A memo to the Council from City Hall staffers note that the scooters use the public right-of-way.
“Current law prohibits blocking sidewalks and imposes requirements on the operation of scooters, but there are no specific restrictions on electric scooter share programs,” the memo says. “Electric scooters have the potential to complement our existing transportation network by providing an additional mobility option. However, electric scooters also have the potential to clutter the public right-of-way and impact public safety.”
The City Hall proposal would, during the six-month test period:
— Limit participants in the pilot program to three operators, each of whom would be issued permits for 50 scooters
— Require the scooter-sharing companies to provide the city access to data it can use to analyze the pilot program and learn the locations of the scooters for law enforcement and monitoring.
— Let the city place restrictions on hours of operation, number and location of scooter.
— Restrict parking of the scooters to certain areas.
— Require proof of insurance from the scooter owners.
“Staff would work with Transportation Commission to refine pilot program requirements,” the memo says. “A 6-month pilot program will allow the city to test the concept of private electric scooter sharing systems in West Hollywood, assess the quality of various vendors, and collect and analyze data upon the conclusion of the pilot program. Staff would return to Council with the findings from the pilot program to receive further direction.”
The scooter pilot program is likely to be opposed by some residents, who already have objected to bicycles on sidewalks in areas that don’t have bike lanes.
West Hollywood had its first experience with electric scooters in late March and early April when Lime, headquartered in San Mateo, suddenly dropped them on city sidewalks. While some residents were enthusiastic about them, others complained that they blocked pedestrian traffic and were a safety hazard.
Other Southern California cities are struggling to deal with the issue. The City of Santa Monica recently authorized an 18-month test of electric scooters and electric bikes the will begin in September. Santa Monica, where Bird is headquartered, sued the company last year for illegally distributing its scooters throughout the city. The lawsuit was settled in February with Bird agreeing to pay $300,000 in fines and to obtain a business license.
Santa Monica’s pilot program will require electric-scooter and electric-bike companies to apply for a permit and pay a $20,000 annual fee and a fee of $130 per vehicle.
The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. Parking is free in the five-story structure behind the Chambers with a ticket validated in the lobby.