Planning Director David Martin is expected to announce his picks for the city’s official electric scooter/bike pilot program Thursday. The selection of up to four companies to operate in the city’s eight square miles promises to send shockwaves through a fast-growing industry, as major companies Uber and Lyft go head to head with start-ups like Bird and Lime for early dominance.
The announcement comes two days after the City Council clarified rules that ban electric devices on the Santa Monica portion of the Marvin Braude beach bike path. The Council officially voted to prohibit all motorized devices from the path, including electric scooters, electric bikes, Segways and motorized skateboards. The Council also approved a right-of-way fee for shared mobility devices of $1 per device per day to invest in public infrastructure.
“I think if we can make the scooters be safe it will reduce the desire to make them go away,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “I think in the long term, they will be a productive new type of mobility in our city, especially once the fad wears off a bit and people begin to use them … more responsibly.”
Councilmember Terry O’Day was the only member to vote against the new fee.
“I think we’re hitting on the wrong vehicle here,” said O’Day, who argues the scooters get commuters out of cars, easing traffic and emissions. “It’s the 2,000-pound vehicle, not the 15-pound vehicle.”
The pilot participants will be allowed to deploy hundreds of dockless devices in Santa Monica in a partnership with the city that will closely monitor usage and aim to curb bad behavior by riders. Bird and Lime’s temporary permits expire just before the launch of the pilot, meaning they could be banned from the city if they are not selected by Martin.
“Lime’s mission is to work with cities and their officials to ensure the best user experience and the safety of our riders,” said Sam Dreiman, Lime’s director of strategic development. “Our team has worked tirelessly to implement changes to the user experience based upon feedback we’ve received from Santa Monica riders and the broader community. For example, we recently introduced technology that increases safety by geofencing prohibited areas such as Palisades Park and the Third Street Promenade.”
Industry experts say the decision is particularly crucial for Bird, which declined to comment for this article. The start-up from a former Uber executive is approaching its one year anniversary of dropping hundreds of dockless scooters throughout the city, allowing any user to unlock them with an app on their smartphone. Dozens of companies rushed to replicate their business plan as investor money poured into Bird. By June, sources close to the matter said Bird had been valued at $2 billion and the company has nearly 1,000 employees at their new headquarters at Colorado Center.
“I think there’s a lot at stake here and this is a war that’s in the early stages,” said USC associate professor of clinical entrepreneurship Thomas Knapp. “It’s going to go city by city, all the way through. We’ve seen apprehension of cities already.”
About a dozen companies applied for the pilot, including Bird and Lime. Both companies were stunned earlier this month when an official selection committee made up of city employees and a Santa Monica Police Department traffic officer encouraged Martin to choose Lyft and Jump, which is owned by Uber. Bird and Lime immediately staged a protest, pointing out the rideshare giants have never actually deployed a single scooter.
Martin is not bound by the committee’s recommendations.
If selected, Bird has offered to donate $1 per vehicle per day to city governments or related organizations to use toward infrastructure. Similarly, Lime has offered $1.5 million toward infrastructure if they are selected for the pilot, according to a supplemental application sent to the city Aug. 17.