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Was San Diego Right to Clamp Down on E-Scooters?

Strict rules were enacted by the City Council to limit speeds to 3 mph in much of the city – enforced using GPS tracking – and other restrictive measures that slowly pushed out operators of e-scooters.

Dockless scooters
Bird Scooter riders navigate the boardwalk in Pacific Beach on June 13, 2018. The beach areas have seen an increase in scooter traffic and police have started handed out tickets for those not obeying the law while riding them.
K.C. Alfred/TNS
(TNS) — The last electric scooter company, Bird, left San Diego earlier this month.

Strict rules were enacted by the City Council to limit speeds to 3 mph in much of the city (using GPS tracking) and other restrictive measures that slowly pushed out operators of e-scooters.

Restrictions from governments, including citywide bans in places like Paris, may have unintentionally spurred a new industry of personal e-scooters that aren't subject to GPS-tracked speed restrictions.

The global market for e-scooters, sometimes called e-kick scooters, was valued at $4.3 billion in 2022 and is predicted to grow by 13 percent annually, said a report from Grand View Research. Many models on Amazon go for under $300 and go much faster than the regulations San Diego had imposed.

San Diego has proposed softer rules to lure scooter companies back but, if they return, they will face new competition from personal e-scooters.

Q: Did San Diego make the right call clamping down e-scooter companies?

Haney Hong, San Diego County Taxpayers Assoc.

NO:This goes to show what an overly strong regulatory hand can do to an emerging market. There are plenty of folks who could probably benefit from getting around faster with a scooter, especially after they ride the bus or transit to finish that last mile. But now the poor choices by our public leaders means you have to buy one and won't have the ability to rent something from competing companies.

Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research

NO:Over restriction of e-scooters made this transportation option unviable. Technological improvements make e-scooters safer, easier to operate, and more comfortable with batteries improving and charging more quickly effectively reducing costs. Responsible usage and reasonable regulations can be enforced without destroying the last-mile option for accessing public transportation. This can provide for reduced road congestion, less parking space requirement, and lower air pollution. Designated lane usage and parking areas can help overcome safety and infrastructure hurdles.

Lynn Reaser, economist

YES:The mismatch of conveyance speeds lead to a collision hazard. This is true on roads for cars vs. others. It is also true on sidewalks for pedestrians vs. zippy e-scooters. Hence, the speed limit was set at the typical walking speed of 3 mph. This regulation scuttled the e-scooter rental market. The burgeoning market of private e-scooters without automatic speed limiting will refresh concerns for pedestrian safety.

Phil Blair, Manpower

YES: Scooters are a great alternative to using cars to get around downtown San Diego and may be key to new apartments/condos with no parking spots. However scooters can not be a detriment to San Diego drivers and walkers on sidewalks. New policies need to be a win/win for scooter companies and San Diegans downtown.

Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

NO:I don't think the intent was the total elimination of scooters. The fact that owners of scooters have carte blanche, but others (including visitors) have been regulated away is economically biased. The goal should be to achieve reasonable rules to live by, because multi-modal transportation solutions are the right answer in urban areas where short trips dominate. The key is proper infrastructure, rules and the use of monitoring and regulating technology.

Alan Gin, University of San Diego

YES: There were some safety concerns about people using the scooters on sidewalks, which led to the requirements for technology restricting their speed when on sidewalks. That hurt because that made them more susceptible to theft, especially given our proximity to the border. But the loss of the scooter companies has been mitigated by the creation of the personal e-scooters market, which could fill the need for the "last mile" of transportation that could improve the viability of public transit.

Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch & Associates

NO:Scooters are convenient for getting around the city, but unsafe riders or people who leave them anywhere make them a nuisance. We should require a driver's license and have scooters use bike lanes. If we make the Gaslamp District a pedestrian-only area and negotiate a reasonable set of rules for scooter users, life will be better for scooter companies, users, and those navigating them in public. Too many regulations are an existential threat to scooters.

James Hamilton, UC San Diego

NO:Scooters are a very popular alternative to cars or bikes, and San Diego's climate is ideally suited for them. San Diego's future plans for urban working and living centers make the need for creative transportation alternatives even stronger. But the city's regulations, the toughest in the country, drove the vendors out of business. The city should try to find a way to make this new transportation mode a win-win for everybody.

Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth

YES:Electric scooters are polarizing. Users see e-scooters as convenient, eco-friendly means of short-distance transportation. Detractors say they are irresponsibly littered across popular areas and operated dangerously. Rental scooters are generally used without helmets and cause numerous injuries. The city was right to create restrictions to ensure safe operation. However, given the benefits, restrictions should aspire to improve public safety, not make the businesses untenable. Speed caps on walkways and parking spaces were a good foundation.

Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health

YES: Unfortunately, we saw devastating traumatic injuries and even deaths from the use of e-scooters due to high speed and lack of required safety equipment such as helmets. Restrictions were needed to save lives and limbs. If personal e-scooters take off in the same way that the others did, they should be regulated as well in the vehicle and /or municipal codes just as we do for motorcycles, bicycles and e-bicycles.

Norm Miller, University of San Diego

NO:I see e-scooters as not much different from e-bikes, which are quickly becoming an efficient transit alternative all over the globe. Perhaps e-scooters could use bike lanes and be allowed to go faster than walking speed? They may be a touch more dangerous, but that is up to the user to decide, or the parents, if they want to risk it, and they should be required to abide by the same rules as cars and e-bikes.

Jamie Moraga, Franklin Revere

NO:The city essentially cut off their nose to spite their face. The e-scooter companies left as the rules and restrictions were too strict and they faced increased theft of their devices. Now the city wants to reverse course to lure e-scooter companies back. In the meantime, some consumers have sought other options due to the exiting of e-scooter companies from San Diego. This includes increased sales for personal scooters that are easily transportable and affordable, and don't have GPS-tracked speed restrictions.

David Ely, San Diego State University

NO:The city needed to establish rules for e-scooters. But, the exit by all e-scooter companies suggests that the rules were probably excessive. The exit of these companies, even if only temporary, means that e-scooters will contribute less to the transportation needs of the city over the next several years. And, personal scooters will make up a larger share of scooters in use, making rules enforcement and managing their use more difficult.

Ray Major, SANDAG

NO: The region has aggressive goals to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled. One of the most important strategies for reducing emissions is providing micro-mobility options, such as scooters and bikes. It gives people traveling short distances a true last-mile transportation alternative to reach their destination or to connect to the current transit system. It is unfortunate that a compromise could not be met to keep e-scooters as a viable option.

Caroline Freund, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy

NO: San Diego went too far in clamping down on scooters. Restrictions should be tight enough to prevent scooters from knocking folks off the sidewalks but not so tight that they knock all scooters out of the city. Loosening is the right move now, but it might be too late. San Diego has demonstrated a tendency toward excessive and unpredictable regulation.

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