Transportation

San Diego Mayor Floats New Rules for Dockless Scooters

The proposal comes just weeks after public health officials called the on-demand vehicles a “disaster in the making.”

by Joshua Emerson Smith, The Sand Diego Union Tribune / October 19, 2018

(TNS) — Following months of public outcry, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Thursday morning a proposal to regulate dockless scooters throughout the city — including restricting speeds in select areas and requiring that companies share ridership data.

City councilmembers Barbara Bry and Lorie Zapf have been calling on the city since May to adopt rules governing the rental scooters, which can travel up to 15 miles per hour and are often improperly used on city sidewalks.

In September, public health officials at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego called the scooter trend a “public health disaster in the making,” and announced it was spearheading an effort to track injuries related to the electric vehicles.

Faulconer released this statement Thursday morning along with his proposal: “The rapid evolution of this industry is evidence of the popularity of dockless mobility devices as great options for folks who would like to leave their car at home. As with many disruptive new technologies, there are issues that need to be addressed. First and foremost, public safety is our top priority and that will be reflected in these common-sense regulations.”

If adopted by the City Council as proposed, the new rules would limit speeds to 8 miles per hour in select areas, including along the boardwalks in Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla.

Using geofencing technology, scooter speeds would also be lowered in Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park, Liberty Station NTC Park, the promenades in front of and behind the San Diego Convention Center and the Embarcadero area.

“I’m pleased to have worked with Mayor Faulconer to develop important safety standards for the protection of scooter riders and pedestrians,” Councilwoman Zapf said in a statement. “My goal has always been to slow down the speed of the scooters and address safety concerns. With this proposal I feel confident that we will see changes for the better.”

At the same time, Councilwoman Bry expressed a desire to more fully flush out the proposal.

"While the mayor’s proposed framework is a good start, I’d like to see even more detail to ensure that the companies operate responsibly,” she said. “Such detail should include a more robust fee structure, improved data-sharing requirements and a commitment to equity and education.”

In the city of San Diego, where long-promised bicycle lanes have yet to fully materialize, many scooter users have taken to riding on sidewalks, frustrating business and unnerving pedestrians.

Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition applauded the new rules, but reiterated a longstanding call to accelerate progress on the city’s incomplete network of bike lanes.

“With this sudden surge in popularity and ridership of scooters, it's critical that we provide safe places for them to be riding instead of sidewalks,” Hanshaw said.

Scripps Mercy Hospital said that while exact numbers on injuries are not yet available, at least 30 scooter riders have required hospitalization since June, with scores more being treated in the emergency room.

Dockless scooter companies, such as Lime and Bird, first showed up in San Diego earlier this year, backed with hundreds of millions of dollars in investor cash. Initially, some companies also offered dockless bikes, only to have that transportation option largely fade away in recent months.

The mayor’s office said that it’s been tracking the emerging business model, deciding to act this week based largely on safety concerns.

“We have been paying close attention to the growth of the industry here and in other cities,” said spokesman Greg Block. “As it has evolved away from traditional bikes to be dominated by motorized scooters, we felt that now was the right time to develop common sense regulations that allow people to continue to have transportation choices while making it safer for riders and pedestrians.”

Under the proposal, each individual scooter would need to carry signage reading: “Riding on Sidewalk is Prohibited.” Companies would also be required to inform riders of state and federal laws, including the cost of citations.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that lifted the helmet requirement for scooter riders 18 years and older. The law also allows scooter riders to operate on streets with speed limits of 35 miles an hour, up from 25.

At the same time, the governor approved legislation that allows minors cited for not wearing a helmet to attend a safety course to correct the violation. State law requires that electric scooter riders be at least 16 years old with a diver’s license or permit.

Police officials have said that ticketing scooter riders is a low priority given the agency’s limited resources.

The mayor’s proposed rules would also require scooter companies to share information, such as fleet sizes, how often the vehicles are used, where they are used and the number of reported accidents.

Each scooter company would also be required to indemnify the city from liability claims and carry a liability insurance policy.

Unlike in San Francisco, Los Angles and Santa Monica, Faulconer has not proposed to limit the number of scooters or scooter companies that can operate within the city.

Similar to other cities, the mayor has proposed an annual permit fee and additional operating fees for the use of city property, the costs of which are still being determined.

In Los Angeles, for example, companies pay as much as $20,000 a year for a permit to operate in the city and a $130 per-vehicle fee.

The San Diego City Council Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee is scheduled to hear the mayor’s proposal at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.