(TNS) — Merchants want new rental services for bicycles that don’t need to be returned to a shop or docking station to be banned until rules can be created for them.
City officials sent the city’s operators a list of rules that apply to all businesses this week.
Supporters say the bikes have changed perceptions of the city’s transportation future.
Frustrated merchants are lobbying San Diego to temporarily ban app-rented bikes flooding the city in recent weeks so that local laws can be written to limit where people can park them.
The bright yellow and green bikes can be rented using a smartphone app, and don’t have to be returned to a shop or docking station. They lock in place when no one is using them, and they are crowding sidewalks across the city.
In the absence of any local laws specific to such bikes, San Diego officials are trying to crack down on irresponsible behavior by sending the city’s operators seven pages of rules this week that apply to all local businesses.
Those laws, which are part of the city’s municipal code, prohibit businesses from blocking sidewalks, clogging the public “right of way” and advertising goods for rent in parks or at beaches without express permission from the city.
The merchant groups are praising those efforts, but would prefer a halt to the program so city officials and community leaders can review the entire rental concept and possibly designate specific spots where the bikes can be parked.
"We completely understand the concept of a dockless system, however there needs to be more control and order in communities that are highly congested and have high pedestrian usage,” said Chris Gomez, manager of the Little Italy Association.
San Diego’s dockless bike experience has been more of a free-for-all than in most cities, because San Diego couldn’t make an exclusive deal with one operator without violating a previous exclusive deal with a rental company that requires bikes to be returned to docking stations.
Supporters of the dockless bikes say regardless of how the battle over potential regulations turns out, the bikes have been a tremendous success with the potential to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.
“They have become an overnight sensation,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of Climate Action Campaign. “It has changed everything about how people view our transportation future.”
Gomez and the Little Italy Association are lobbying Civic San Diego, which oversees policies for downtown, to request a cease-and-desist action until the City Council can study the problem and approve a comprehensive set of regulations.
Merchant groups from the Gaslamp to Mission Hills and La Jolla have expressed frustration with the dockless bikes since thousands of them began arriving in the city three weeks ago.
They are complaining that bikes are strewn about the sidewalks of high-traffic business districts and that community leaders got no notice the flood of bikes was coming, depriving them of a chance to weigh in on possible regulations.
Gomez said Little Italy, the city’s premier dining district, could benefit from setting up bike corrals – designated spots where the dockless bikes could be parked and rented by users.
"The focus is not necessarily killing the program," he said. "Our concept is having this program be successful underneath the guise of ‘order meets freedom.’ Order within our communities, so we know that these things aren't going to be all over the place. And freedom to allow your user to still have a location in the hub of the district."
Gomez said his organization and other business improvement districts across the city are also worried about liability, contending irresponsible actions by bike users could lead to injuries and litigation.
Officials from LimeBike, which operates dockless bikes alongside Mobike and Ofo in San Diego, say they have not staged any bikes in Little Italy and have prioritized quickly relocating any bikes left there by users.
LimeBike also said the company is constantly trying to make sure its bikes don’t become nuisances.
“We have, and will continue, to conduct a comprehensive outreach program to ensure we’re addressing any challenges and best serving the needs of the community,” LimeBike spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt wrote in an email.
Meanwhile, city officials sent the seven pages of regulations to local operators on Tuesday in hopes of reining in irresponsible and illegal behavior.
In letters to each operator, assistant chief operating officer Stacy LoMedico wrote that city officials have received numerous complaints about behavior that is illegal despite the absence of dockless bike regulations.
The behavior, from blocking sidewalks to placing rental bikes in city parks, is illegal because it violates rules governing all businesses in the city’s municipal code and under state law.
“The purpose of this letter is to provide a non-exhaustive summary of city of San Diego municipal code provisions and state statutes that your business must adhere to when doing business within city limits,” wrote LoMedico, adding that the list was subject to change.
She also urged the operators to consult with their attorneys about any other laws they might be violating.
The letters were sent to Ofo and Mobike, which operate bikes only, LimeBike, which operates bikes and motorized scooters, and Bird, which operates scooters only.
Some of the regulations cited by LoMedico only apply to scooters, such as rules regarding maximum speed and policies for passing bikes and yielding to pedestrians.
The dockless bikes typically require a rental fee of $1 per half hour. Ofo is free for the month of March.
©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.