Santa Monica launched its first shared mobility pilot program in 2018 to test entirely new concepts relating to shared mobility businesses, but new challenges in the wake of COVID-19 have City Council wondering if it should backpedal on a previous decision.

After a pilot evaluation report in January 2020, City Council approved a second Shared Mobility Pilot Program that sought to 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,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said in January 2020 when he discussed a need to clean up safety issues and make sure car-free mobility is affordable and accessible.

Shortly after the remarks, Council directed staff to create a second pilot program that would build on the successes of the first and better address the persistent challenges. It was set to launch on July 1, 2020, but like all aspects of life, shared mobility has been impacted by COVID-19.

City staff said in a report that Jump and Lime left the Santa Monica market, which reflects the trend of some companies downsizing and withdrawing from certain markets since COVID-19 has slowed movement across all transportation modes.

“Between 2019 and 2020, shared mobility ridership is down 77%, parking transactions are down 52%, (Big Blue Bus) ridership is down 59%,” the report states as it details increasing Pay-as-you-go rates and companies that are reducing staff, devices, and operations to cope with financial stress.

As a result, other cities in the region are extending programs or shifting from permitting to contracting models to mitigate affordability concerns and volatility of service for customers. Cities are also rethinking fee structures to drive user rates lower and help shared mobility businesses through this difficult time, staff said, adding, “The pandemic will continue to disrupt daily life and business for the next several months, including causing uncertainty within the shared mobility industry.”

This is why staff recommends that the program shift from its current permitting model to a contracting model in order to mitigate some of the aforementioned volatility. In comparison to the current model, contracting provides a stronger foundation for cities and companies to work together toward improved outcomes achieved through defined service level standards, incentives, penalties, and fees, staff said. There is also a recommendation to extend the first pilot program from April 30, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

Council is expected to discuss the subject during its next meeting, which is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

McKeown said Wednesday he isn’t sure what next week’s conversation will hold, but he does know the ongoing challenge will be controlling erratic user behaviors.

“Many Santa Monicans still have a bad taste in their mouths from when disruptive entrepreneurs first dumped scooters on our streets with no permission and no rules. Since then, the advantages of micro-mobility have become more clear,” McKeown said Wednesday. “This latest proposal is a maturation of our community’s relationship with the scooter and e-bike companies, from no rules to permits to iron-clad contracts.”

Brennon@smdp.com