The city of Santa Monica’s official “shared mobility” pilot program will launch next month with 2,000 electric scooters and 1,000 electric bikes divided between start-ups Bird and Lime and ride-share powerhouses Lyft and Jump, which is owned by Uber. The decision by Planning Director David Martin to award contracts to the four companies marks the end of a fierce competition between a dozen upstarts looking for market share in a new but rapidly expanding industry.
“Bird is honored to have called Santa Monica our home since we first launched shared electric scooters less than 12 months ago,” Bird CEO and Founder Travis VanderZanden said in a statement. The company has roughly 1,000 employees working on dockless operations around the world from their headquarters at Colorado Center.
Bird and Lime will launch the pilot with 750 scooters each in September. While Bird had ranked lowest on a selection committees’ review of submitted applications, Martin scored the company higher on compliance, experience and ability to launch at the start of the pilot.
“I am also aware of the fact that Bird and Lime have incurred several hundred thousand dollars in fines due to the placement of their devices in the public right of way. While compliance issues have arisen since the introduction of shared mobility devices in Santa Monica, more recently, Bird and Lime have both shown a consistent and continuing willingness to work with the City to develop a practical and functional shared mobility device program. Operators were scored accordingly,” Martin said.
In recent weeks, Lime has implemented new geofencing technology to slow scooters in prohibited areas like the Marvin Braude beach bike path, Palisades Park and the Third Street Promenade. The company is also investing in technology to alert roving employees when a scooter has been knocked over so they can be adjusted.
“Lime is thrilled and honored to be included in Santa Monica’s new pilot program,” a Lime spokesperson told the Daily Press. “We are so grateful for Santa Monica’s transparent process and collaborative approach.”
While both companies have deployed roughly 1,000 scooters every morning since their launch, Lime abandoned their electric bike program in Santa Monica after two months, citing low demand for the service here. Jump and Lyft will test the market once again, with 500 electric bicycles spread throughout the city in addition to 250 e-scooters each. All four companies will be allowed to expand the number of devices based on demand.
“We are thrilled to have been awarded permits for both bikes and scooters by the City of Santa Monica,” said Caroline Samponaro, Lyft’s Bike & Scooter Policy lead. “The city’s decision to collaborate with Lyft deepens a partnership that will reduce vehicle congestion, increase public transportation trips and provide equitable transportation solutions to all residents of Santa Monica.”
Both Lyft and Uber have promised to integrate scooters and bikes into their existing apps, giving rideshare users easy access to non-vehicle options for their commute. Lyft’s application for the pilot also proposed offering real-time public transit options to help commuters piece together multiple modes of transportation for a single trip.
Lyft and Jump had ranked highest on a selection committee’s assessment of applications, sparking protest by Bird and Lime, which argued the rideshare companies had never deployed a single scooter (Jump operates a bikeshare program in San Francisco and is also the company that power’s Breeze, Santa Monica’s bikeshare program.) The two companies stalled operations, creating a “day without a scooter” and deluged city staff inboxes with roughly 10,000 form emails from users.
While Martin said Lime and Bird’s experience working in Santa Monica distinguished them among other start-ups offering similar business plans, critics say his decision rewards bad behavior. Scooter start-up Spin, which has operations in about a dozen cities, said they approached the officials about launching here ahead of the pilot, but decided not to after discussions with staff. The selection committee ranked them third, below Jump and Lyft, when they considered the applications.
“Unfortunately, the Director’s decision shows that the City’s words do not matter, that it will reward bad behavior, and that what has been a transparent, fair process can be upended by simply antagonizing city officials and staff,” said Spin’s Head of Public Policy, Brian No. Martin scored Spin lower than Bird and Lime on experience and ability to launch.
No also said it was unfair for the city to consider supplemental applications from Bird and Lime that were submitted after the companies scored poorly on selection committee’s assessment.
Martin said the pilot will help the companies and the city establish best practices and test solutions to a number of problems created by the industry, including cluttered sidewalks and underage riders.