Santa Monica is battling a second incursion of unauthorized scooters and bikes.

Mini-bike rental company Wheels has been staging its bikes around the city for the past few weeks in violation of the City of Santa Monica’s shared mobility pilot program, which only allows Bird, Lime, Lyft and Jump, which is owned by Uber, to operate a combined 3,000 devices in the city. The City selected those four operators last summer, but Wheels is a younger company that launched in January and expanded to Los Angeles from San Diego in March.

Founders Jonathan and Joshua Viner, who created the popular dog-walking app Wag, say the mini-bike is safer than scooters because of its lower center of gravity and larger wheels.

The company’s contractors began deploying its bikes in neat rows along Santa Monica sidewalks earlier this month, but by Thursday, only a few remained scattered around the city, according to the Wheels app. Deputy city manager Anuj Gupta said the City immediately began enforcing its ban on unauthorized devices by issuing citations and fines to the company and impounding the bikes. City manager Rick Cole tweeted Tuesday that Wheels had been fined more than $40,000.

“We’re sending a message to the company that says this is unacceptable under our shared mobility program,” Gupta said.

When local officials spoke with senior leadership at Wheels Wednesday morning, the company said the devices were deployed in error, Gupta said. Wheels pays “transporters” up to $175 a night to collect bikes and drop them off on sidewalks, according to recent job postings.

“Since they employ gig economy workers it seems plausible that it was in error, but there will be serious consequences if that conduct continues,” he said.

This isn’t the first time the City has had to contend with unauthorized devices. Spin’s contractors began staging scooters around Santa Monica earlier this year, even though the Spin app prevents users from renting scooters within city limits. The app displays the city with a pink overlay and warns riders, “Please do not ride here: We may have to suspend your account for repeated violations.”

Gupta said Spin immediately began preventing the erroneous deployment of scooters in Santa Monica after the City began issuing citations. The company received lesser penalties than Wheels, however.

“In contrast to (Spin), Wheels has made its devices available for rent through its app within city limits, which actually constitutes conducting business without a license,” he said. “That’s a much more serious offense and entails a more significant fine.”

The City recognizes that unauthorized scooters and bikes may be ridden into Santa Monica from other areas, Gupta said. Wheels has staged dozens of bikes in Venice, mostly near the boardwalk. But while some cross-contamination may be unavoidable, the company has an obligation and a financial interest to comply with local law.

“We appreciated the measures Spin took immediately after its erroneous deployment a couple of months back,” Gupta said. “We’ll be sitting down with Wheels in person over the next couple of days and we expect a similar level of compliance from them.”

Wheels could not be reached for comment.

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  1. These new “Wheels” are very popular in W.LA. I’ve tried them and they are much safer than the stand up scooters (e.g. Bird). Instead of the city getting mad at another ride sharing platform trying to do business in Santa Monica, maybe the city council should take a good look at the benefits they provide in safety over stand-up e-scooters.

    I understand the city’s frustration, but we are in the beginning stages of an e-volution, where personal electric transportation is evolving quickly. They shouldn’t hinder new technologies which make life easier and safer for the residents.

  2. If you ask the SMPD you will find they give the impounded scooters back to their owners and unlike days past do not sell them at auction for a profit. Part of some deal we residents know nothing about. Typical.

  3. They need to deliver a million dollar bribe like Bird did to get the ok to operate. Remember when Bird didn’t get selected to put scooters in SM and then gave a million dollar “mobility gift” and suddenly was back in the game. Council is all about the money.

  4. I was visiting Santa Monica recently, I lived there for 40 years. I saw scooters flung all over sidewalks, front yards and parks. It looked like a bunch of huge liter everywhere. I saw at least three different brands. The city obviously doesn’t have this explosion of scooters controlled in any way. Looks awful and tacky and one scooter was even thrown over the fence at the Palisades Park. Get it together SM.

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