The COVID-19 pandemic and changes in the business strategies of electric scooter companies have stalled an effort by the City of West Hollywood to launch a program that would test the use of dockless electric bicycles on city streets. The City Council tonight will be asked to rethink that program to permit electric scooters.
Last year the City Council responded to the failure of the WeHo Pedals shared bike program by authorizing City Hall to solicit proposals from companies that operated dockless electric bike programs. Under the WeHo Pedals program riders paid a city contractor to use bikes that were docked at specific locations on the sidewalks. Under the dockless electric bike program riders would pick up and drop off bicycles at bike racks on public sidewalks or at specific locations approved by the city.
The City Council had hoped that one company that offered dockless electric “pedal assist” bikes would qualify for an 18-month pilot program. Electric pedal assist bikes are those equipped with a motor that helps the wheels turn until the rider reaches a speed of 20 miles an hour. The city got no response to its call in May for applications from bike operators, some of which objected that the fee the city proposed to charge was too high. In June, the City Council asked City Hall staff to try again, this time with a reduced fee schedule.
In a memo to the City Council included with tonight’s Council agenda, the city’s Planning & Development Services and Public Works department said they received applications from Jump, Bird, Lime, and Wheels. But only two of the applicants — Jump and Bird — actually proposed offering electric pedal assist bikes. Lime wanted to offer electric scooters, which the city has banned. Wheels wanted to offer throttle assist bikes. A throttle assist bike operates like a motorcycle in that a rider can twist a device on the handlebar to get power from the electric motor without doing any pedaling at all.
As City Hall staffers came close to making a choice, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the bike share and scooter industry hard. “Jump informed the city they would not be able to come to market in West Hollywood until Fall 2020. Bird informed the city that their bicycles were being delayed due to disruption to the supply chain in China,” the memo to the Council stated. Then Jump rescinded its proposal after it was acquired by Lime and stopped offering electric pedal assist bikes in the L.A. market. Bird changed its product line and offered only electric scooters. Lime said it would make the same offer.
“As such, there are now no options for a pedal assist bike for the pilot program,” the staff memo says. “As a result, new options for mobility devices need to be considered. In addition to looking at e-scooters and throttle assist bicycles, the city may want to consider allowing multiple companies to provide dockless mobility devices during the pilot to provide options for type of device.”
In the memo, City Hall recommends the City Council authorize a pilot program that would include electric scooters and low-speed throttle assist bicycles from up to three vendors.
“There is a different physical demand for scooters than bikes, appealing to a different type of rider,” the memo states. “However, scooters are not accessible to all riders, as they can be difficult to maneuver for some users. Scooters can have their speed regulated to avoid fast moving use but are not permitted to be on the sidewalk in West Hollywood.”
Throttle assist bikes are legal on any paved surface that a regular bike is allowed to operate. “Throttle assist bikes, like those proposed by Wheels, are easy to use and have a low center of gravity. These bikes include non-operable pedals, so there is also no physical exertion necessary to ride these vehicles. Like scooters, throttle assist electric bikes can be governed to avoid high speeds.”
The memo to the Council proposed a $30,000 fee for each operator in addition to a $130 fee for each vehicle for being stationed on a portion of the city sidewalk to station the vehicles and a fee of $80 per vehicle in the form of a performance bond that guarantees the contractor will comply with the contract and rules and regulations. The proposal already has been endorsed by the city’s Transportation Commission.
The memo notes that use of scooters and electric bikes “reduces greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise results from vehicle travel, helping the city achieve our Climate Action Plan Goals.” The biggest source of pollution in Los Angeles is from car emissions. This year, for the 22nd year in a row, the Greater Los Angeles area is ranked by the American Lung Association as having the worst air quality in the nation. West Hollywood has installed several new electric charging stations in an effort to encourage drivers to use electric vehicles but has been reluctant to implement measures used in other cities that restrict traffic flow or reduce the availability of parking.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Council’s meeting can only be attended virtually. The city advises that residents “may view the City Council meetings from your computer, tablet or smartphone. City Council meetings are broadcast live on WeHoTV on Spectrum Ch. 10 in West Hollywood and AT&T U-verse Ch. 99 in Southern California, and are streamed live on the City’s website at www.weho.org/wehotv and on YouTube at www.youtube.com/wehotv. WeHoTV programming is also available on multiple streaming platforms, including Android TV, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku. Digital streaming platform viewers can easily find programming by searching for ‘WeHoTV’ within the search functions of these services.”
Anyone wanting to comment on an item on the Council’s agenda, which can be downloaded by clicking here, is asked to submit the comment by 4 p.m. on Monday using a form found online here www.weho.org/councilagendas. Those comments will be forwarded to Council members. Those who wish to call in an comment during the meeting are asked to email City Clerk Yvonne Quarker at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 4 p.m. on Monday to be added to the speaker list. Include your name, telephone numbers and the item you want to speak on. Then, 10 minutes before the start of the meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m., dial (669) 900-6833 and enter meeting I.D. number 924 5862 2275# to be put on hold until the relevant agenda item comes up for discussion.