San Diego Scooter Plan Draws Heated Public Testimony

Scores of residents showed up to Tuesday meeting to voice concerns about the growing number of riders who have been injured while on the electric scooters — especially downtown and along the boardwalk.

by Joshua Emerson Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune / April 24, 2019

(TNS) — The San Diego City Council approved on Tuesday long-awaited rules for governing the app-rented bike and scooter companies that over the last year have flooded city streets with the motorized vehicles.

Following several hours of heated testimony from community members, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that establishes a permitting process for operators, limits speeds in designated areas and requires all devices to scan a valid driver’s license before they can be used.

The new rules go into effect in June, after the council takes its final vote.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, whose office drafted the rules, has embraced the technology as a way to implement the city’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for thousands of people to abandon their car commutes in favor of cleaner alternatives.

Faulconer did not attend the meeting but released this statement following the vote: “The way people get around town has changed quite a bit, and we’re embracing that by putting in place common-sense rules to protect the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

Scores of residents showed up to the meeting to voice concerns about the growing number of people who have been injured while riding the electric scooters, especially downtown and along the boardwalk.

“Our Mission Beach boardwalk as become a highway of safety violations, from double riders and minors to double riding minors,” said Sarah Mattinson, 40. “The sheer number of children on the scooter is alarming. Is this child endangerment?”

Representatives from the scooter companies, such as Bird and Lime, also attended the meeting, bringing with them dozens of their employees and freelance workers.

“I can honestly tell you that there’s nothing more that this company wants for the public than to have a safe and green alternative for people to use in our city,” said Jacob Swett, a 37-year-old mechanic for Bird who lives in North Park. “I work hard every day to make sure that these scooters are safe.”

Amber Rivera, a City Heights resident who works as a full-time employee with Lime suggested that riders are at fault in many accidents.

“Those scooters are amazing,” said the 38-year-old. “They’re built well. They’re stable. I think people should think about what they’re doing when they ride the scooters.”

At the same time, disabled residents, including many in wheelchairs, voiced frustration about navigating city sidewalks strewn with the dockless devices.

“I used to be able to go anywhere downtown,” said Phil Pressel, an 81-year-old resident of downtown who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. “Now I cannot do it without my wife accompanying me because the scooter are blocking my way, and I can’t move them.”

Disability Rights California filed a lawsuit in January against the city, Bird, Lime and Razor for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The national nonprofit has claimed the city has failed to keep the public right-of-way safe for disabled residents.

“I trip over 20 to 30 a day,” said Ali Faraj, 40, who is nearly blind and lives downtown. “You’re regulations are good and a step in the right direction but I request of you today to ban them on sidewalks completely.”

To help address these concerns, the city has started painting parking corrals — 6 by 10 foot rectangles — in the street next to curbs in downtown. Parking dockless vehicles on sidewalks along blocks with corrals is prohibited under the rules. The city plans to install more than 300 of them in downtown and then expand the project to beach communities.

Representatives with the scooter companies said they supported the new rules, but repeatedly asked the city to lower permitting fees and reconsider restrictions on parking.

“We do have a concern with the staging mandate, with any staging mandate that’s limited to a fixed number of corrals,” said Katie Stevens, senior director of strategic development for Lime. “We believe it could prevent operators from placing vehicles in high need areas as other operators fill the corrals upon staging.”

Residents will be able to report parking and other violations using the city’s “Get It Done” app. More information can be found at sandiego.gov/get-it-done. Companies will have three hours to retrieve the vehicles or risk having them impounded.

The police department said it’s applying for grants to fund overtime for officers to enforce the rules.

Members of the City Council reassured the public that the new rules were just the beginning of what would be an ongoing process to regulate dockless vehicle operators.

“We will stay vigilant on this,” said Councilman Chris Cate. “We will work with our partners on this, but this is something that I would love for us to continue to evaluate and pursue additional changes if need be.”

City Councilman Mark Kersey said he was particularly interested in figuring out ways to ensure that all devices were kept off sidewalks to help the disabled.

“I’m not just concerned about the city getting sued,” he said. “I’m really concerned about doing the right thing.”

Councilwoman Barbara Bry — who has led the charge to demand the city draft regulations — called for reviving a proposed ban on all dockless mobility devices along the boardwalk.

“Last summer, I did support an emergency ban on the boardwalks,” she said. “I think the situation is even worse.”

Kersey and Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell also said they would support a ban if it came before council.

“These devices are a threat to our public health for riders and walkers,” Campbell said. “I hear from health officials and community members almost daily about the negligence and bodily harm induced by these devices. Just last night, a woman on Pacific Highway broke her leg falling off a scooter.”

Since the devices showed up early last year, elected officials and the police department have been barraged with hundreds of emails from concerned, often angry residents, calling on the city to address the situation and crack down on those who ride the electric vehicles on sidewalks.

New rules for dockless bike and scooter companies (Go into effect in June)

Speed and parking restrictions: Companies will be required to limit vehicle speeds, using geofencing technology, in designated zones:

Areas with a speed limit of 8 mph include the public walkways within Balboa Park, Liberty Station NTC Park and Spanish Landing Park and Trail.

Areas with a speed limit of 8 mph, where a device cannot be locked and parked include the public walkway on Ocean Front Walk in Mission Beach through Ocean Boulevard in Pacific Beach, Mission Bay Walk along the west side of Mission Bay Park and the walkway on the east side of the park. Restrictions also apply to the boardwalk from Avenida De La Playa along La Jolla Shores and the public right-of-way within Petco Ballpark Zone.

Areas with a speed limit of 3 mph, where a device cannot be locked and parked include Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade, the pedestrian walks along North and South Embarcedero and West Date Street between India and Columbia streets, known as Piazza della Famiglia.

Those working for dockless bike and scooter companies must stage the vehicles in groups of no more than four and at least 40 feet apart in the downtown and beach communities. They cannot be left in parking zones for the disabled or within 500 feet of hospitals and schools governed by the state education code. They also cannot be left within six feet of bus or trolley stop.

Whenever possible vehicles must be parked in city-provided parking corrals — rectangular, painted boxes near street curbs. The vehicles cannot be parked on streets adjacent to those with the off-sidewalk corrals.

Education: Companies are required to force riders to scroll through and manually acknowledge local and state vehicle laws before each ride. All motorized scooters will include a label that reads: “Riding on sidewalks is prohibited.”

Impounding: Companies must retrieve their vehicles from city property within three hours of being notified that devices are inoperable, not safe to operate or improperly parked. Vehicles not picked up within the timeframe can be impounded at a company’s expense of $65 per device and $1 a day.

The city manager can suspend a company’s right to operate for six months or more based on violations of any of the city’s rules.

Residents can report violations using the city’s “Get It Done” app. More information can be found at sandiego.gov/get-it-done.

Fees: Companies are required to secure a six-month permit at a cost of $5,141 in January and July, as well as pay $150 per device annually. Operators can adjust the size of their vehicle fleets when they renew their permits. Once a year, they can apply for an event permit to increase the size of their fleets up to 20 percent for 10 days.

Operators can qualify for a $15 reduction in the vehicle fee, at the discretion of the city manager, by implementing programs for low-income riders.

Legal indemnification: Companies must shield the city from any liability, claims and damage related to their business. Operators will be required to hold commercial general liability insurance of $2 million per occurrence and $4 million aggregate. Each operator will also carry a $4 million umbrella policy.

Data sharing: Companies must share anonymized data on a regular basis, such as fleet sizes, how often devices are used, trips and parking locations, accidents and maintenance. The city manager can also require operators to conduct user surveys and provide data in real time.

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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