The city of Santa Monica may reduce the number of companies authorized to deploy scooters and bikes within city limits in the next iteration of its pilot program to regulate dockless devices.

The city council voted to extend the current pilot program to May and directed city staff to develop a new program to follow it that would seek to keep scooters and bikes off the sidewalk, prevent fares from rising and ensure a more equitable distribution of devices throughout the city. Council members said staff would be in a better position to enforce those regulations if the city allowed only two or three companies to operate in Santa Monica, rather than the current four.

The city launched the Shared Mobility Pilot Program last September, allowing Bird, Lime, Lyft and Jump, which is owned by Uber, to deploy a combined 3,000 devices in Santa Monica as long as they maintained the safety of their riders and the public, shared data with the city and responded quickly to community complaints.

The number of devices each company has been allowed to operate has changed based on their compliance with those requirements. Any future change in the number of companies permitted to operate in Santa Monica would not result in a lower number of total devices, council members said.

Mayor Gleam Davis while the city will need to hold the companies accountable to a higher safety standard going forward, it should reaffirm its support for scooters and bikes as a means to get people out of their cars.

“This is a mode of transportation that is taking millions of car trips off the streets of Santa Monica,” she said. “Not only is that a climate change issue, but in my 10 years on the council, there are very few neighborhood meetings I’ve gone to where people haven’t screamed at me about traffic. So we’re not just cleaning up the environment, but we’re directly addressing an area that a lot of people in this town care about.”

Council members said they were most concerned about the safety risks created by riding and parking scooters and bikes on the sidewalk.

According to a report on the pilot program officials released earlier this month, the city used geofencing technology, painted new bike lanes and installed scooter parking zones to try to redirect scooters from the sidewalk and highly trafficked areas like the Third Street Promenade. The city also applied 200 “no sidewalk riding” decals to busy downtown intersections and the Santa Monica Police Department cited about 130 users for riding on the sidewalk.

The four companies publicized the rules against riding on the sidewalk and offered some incentives for riders to use the parking zones, but riders continued to use the sidewalk and barely used the 107 zones the city installed, according to the report.

“The incentives were not as robust as they could have been,” said pilot program coordinator Kyle Kozar.

Council members said the second pilot program must include strategies such as more precise geofencing to keep riders off the sidewalk and stop them from parking scooters in the public right-of-way, which has caused elderly and disabled people to trip over them.

Davis said she thinks riders use the sidewalk because they feel unsafe riding on the street or in unprotected bike lanes. Solving that problem will require greater infrastructure investments, she said.

“If we want people to ride these devices on the street instead of the sidewalk … we have to provide the infrastructure to allow them to do that,” she said. “If we give people safe, protected lanes in which to operate them, they will be more likely to use these various means of mobility rather than driving a car.”

Council members also said the second pilot program needs to address issues around equity and sustainability, with Councilmember Ted Winterer saying he thinks the devices should be charged with renewable energy and deployed by sustainable vehicles.

Councilmember Ana Maria Jara said it is often difficult to find devices in less affluent parts of the city, such as the Pico neighborhood. She said the city should incentivize companies to deploy scooters and bikes in all areas of the city.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown said he thinks the city should have some control over the price of scooter and bike rides and have a contingency plan in case the venture capital-funded companies are unable to eventually turn a profit.

“I’m concerned about surge pricing, and that these devices will eventually be priced in such a way that they are no longer competitive with cars,” he said. “I’m also concerned about what happens when the venture capital runs out, because they’re not bringing in enough money to cover the expenses they’re incurring. We need to think about what to do if this market crashes and what has been a useful transportation option for our residents is no longer there.”

The council will begin finalizing the second pilot program early next year.

madeleine@smdp.com

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