A crowd of about 200 electric scooter employees, chargers and supporters gathered outside City Hall Tuesday to rally Bird and Lime fans after the start-up companies failed to get a key endorsement to continue to operate in Santa Monica after their permits expire this September.

“Even though it was a guerilla tactic … bring in scooters, dump them on the street. I like it. It speaks to America,” said 12-year resident Shaddy Safadi, who rides the scooters from his house on 19th Street to downtown Santa Monica.

City Manager Rick Cole said the nearly 10,000 identical emails he received from Bird and Lime riders would not likely affect his staff’s decision on which companies will officially operate in the city. The final say rests with Planning Director David Martin.

“David will give very careful review to the written materials submitted by all parties,” Cole said.

Last week, the City quietly published a report from a key selection committee endorsing Lyft and Jump (which is owned by Uber) to run dockless electric scooter and bike operations in the city starting this September. The committee of city staffers and a Santa Monica Police Department traffic officer reviewed detailed proposals from 13 companies, scoring each on seven categories including experience, operations and safety.

Bird and Lime both performed particularly poorly on the compliance portion, which assessed their record with Federal, state and local laws. Neither seemed likely to be chosen for the pilot.

Facing expulsion from its hometown, Bird made the strategic decision to jolt its fan base Monday, suddenly shutting down scooters in Santa Monica and beginning a “day without a scooter.” Lime soon followed.

The start-ups told their thousands of active users to rally outside City Hall Tuesday night or risk losing the service for good, promising the scooters would be back “depending on the outcome of the City Hall meeting on Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.” Both companies also reached out to their contract workforce, which spreads out throughout the Westside each night to charge scooters for roughly $7 a device.

The email perplexed City leaders who had no plans to meet with Bird or Lime. While the City Council had a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night, scooters were not on the agenda. The Council itself does not have say in the final selection for the pilot. Councilmember Kevin McKeown told the Daily Press the committee’s recommendation to remove Bird and Lime was in line with his priorities.

“The Council made clear back in June that safety and courtesy, so lacking in this summer’s wild explosion of scooters, must be part of the upcoming pilot program to gain control of scooter usage with more responsive operators,” McKeown said.

Bird and Lime also drafted emails on their apps users could send with the touch of a finger, flooding official inboxes with form letters. The move added to the fatigue of city staffers already overwhelmed with the chaos the dockless operations had brought to town. Multiple City Hall and tech insiders told the Daily Press it felt like Bird and Lime were throwing a tantrum.

Both companies told the Daily Press they had made efforts to work with leaders.

“Since day one, we have worked collaboratively with the City to design a program tailored to fit the community’s needs,” Lime CEO Tony Sun said in a statement. “It’s clear Santa Monica residents and visitors have enthusiastically embraced Lime, with over 180,000 unique riders choosing us as their affordable, zero-emission transportation option since we launched in April.”

The Daily Press reached out to other companies who submitted applications. The head of public policy for Spin said his company had an open dialogue with City Hall throughout the process and thought they acted transparently. He said Bird’s actions and emails misled customers.

“They’re riling up their users and trying to paint the City Council as the enemy when they have nothing to do with this,” Brian Kyuhoon No told the Daily Press. Spin ranked third in the pilot application process.

“We respect the City’s process and we were glad to participate and apply,” said No. “Obviously we were bummed we weren’t ranked as one of the top two but we were happy to see we were the next highest.”

No said he hopes Planning Director David Martin will consider giving Spin a shot at the pilot program to add diversity to the options. Spin has made a point of working with cities before launching, unlike Bird which dropped hundreds of scooters on Santa Monica streets without proper permits in September.

He said the practice of “road launching,” when start-ups simply drop devices without contracting with the city puts officials on the defensive, resulting in stricter rules than if the two entities worked together from the beginning.

Jump’s founder and CEO Ryan Rzepecki told the Daily Press his company is committed to solving some of the problems associated with Bird and Lime scooters. He said they planned to work with the city to paint parking spaces for electric devices and partner with businesses to provide helmets.

“We’re just providing more and more options to the city,” Rzepecki said. Jump devices would be available through the Uber app, allowing users to choose a greener commute rather than a car. When Uber debuted the feature in San Francisco, Uber car trips fell by 10 percent while usage rose.

Rzepecki views their major competition as personal cars, not other scooter or bike companies.

“We are growing the pie much, much more than we are competing and fighting over the same people,” Rzepecki said. Jump already has a partnership in Santa Monica, as it is the system that powers the city’s Breeze bikes.

Rather than rely on a contract workforce to charge devices, Jump has paid employees who collect and service their fleet.


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press