Just two to three micromobility companies will be allowed to deploy electric scooters and bikes in Santa Monica from July to December 2020.
City Council has approved a second Shared Mobility Pilot Program that will reduce the number of companies allowed to operate in Santa Monica over the program’s 18-month duration. Councilmembers said the city will be better able to administer the program if it concentrates its regulatory power on two to three companies that offer high-quality devices, stable pricing and systems that reduce sidewalk riding and haphazard parking.
“Shared e-bikes and scooters have proven their popularity, with over 2.67 million individual rides in Santa Monica in the past year, half of those replacing car trips,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown. “We know they help clean our air, but now in our second pilot program we need to clean up safety issues and make sure car-free mobility is affordable and accessible.”
The city has partnered with Bird, Lime, Lyft and Jump, which is owned by Uber, since the launch of the Shared Mobility Pilot Program in September 2018. Because the application for the second program will be open to all scooter and bike companies and not just the companies authorized under the current program, the micromobility landscape in Santa Monica could undergo a significant shift come July. (The total number of scooters allowed in the city, however, will not be reduced.)
Executives from Revel, Wheels and Spin told City Council Tuesday that their companies are eager to participate in the second program, although the council voted to regulate moped sharing company Revel under the city’s existing carsharing rules. Representatives from Bird and Lime also said they plan to continue doing business in the city.
Todd Maron, the chief legal officer of mini-bike company Wheels, said the device is safer and more accessible than a traditional scooter because it has a seat, larger wheels, a low center of gravity and comes with a built-in helmet. (The city fined Wheels last April for staging bikes in Santa Monica in violation of the Shared Mobility Pilot Program.)
Representatives from Bird and Lime urged the council not to adopt regulations proposed by city staff that would require companies to equip their devices with “lock-to” technology and swappable batteries.
Tim Harder, Bird’s senior manager of government partnerships, said forcing riders to lock devices to bike racks or street poles would make the devices less desirable and lower ridership. Harder said Bird will continue offering discounts to incentivize riders to park in the 107 drop zones the city has installed over the past year and asked officials to add more. (The city reduced Bird’s fleet size last year, citing a lack of compliance with the program’s regulations, but later reversed the action.)
The council voted against the proposed regulations and instead agreed to give preference in the selection process to any tools that keep devices out of the public right-of-way and sustainable charging and deployment practices. Companies would be asked not to promote ride-hail services on their apps.
The council also decided to give preference to local companies in the selection process (only Bird is headquartered in Santa Monica) and companies that have not pulled out of other markets (Lyft and Jump stopped deploying scooters and bikes in several cities late last year).
Most of the other regulations proposed by city staff were adopted, including a requirement that companies evenly distribute devices throughout the city and expand low-income programs. The council voted to give preference during the selection process to devices with built-in systems to detect and address sidewalk riding and safety features such as larger wheels and hand brakes. (Lime announced Tuesday that it has developed a technology that will notify — but not penalize — scooter users who ride on sidewalks, and other companies are developing similar systems.)
The city will for the first time start fining companies for not complying with the Shared Mobility Pilot Program’s regulations. Currently, companies pay annual and daily fees that cover the administrative costs of the program. The fees companies pay to use the public right-of-way have funded 19 miles of green bike lanes.
Under the second program, daily fees will be reduced and the public right-of-way fee will remain in place until the bike lanes are paid for. In June, the council will decide whether to further extend the fee.
The council also asked staff to solicit proposals from nonprofit and private entities to operate Breeze Bike Share, the city-owned bike share system that has lost ridership and revenue to micromobility companies over the past two years.