What does the future of mobility look like in Santa Monica?
Ever-increasing bicycle infrastructure, improving technology and tightening regulations are creating a new landscape for getting from point A to point B, and the City of Santa Monica has just released a new trove of data showing how the current program works and what changes may be coming.
In the nearly five years since Bird dropped its first scooters on Santa Monica’s street corners in September 2017, the concept of “shared mobility devices” has evolved in town; today, private mobility companies Lyft, Spin, Veo and Wheels supply about 2,200 devices in Santa Monica neighborhoods, all under the auspices of the Santa Monica Department of Transportation.
“By promoting alternatives to car trips, the shared mobility industry has shifted from an era of disruption to one of integration within Santa Monica’s transportation network,” according to a new document published by Edward F. King, the city’s director of transit services.
King wrote the remarks as part of a 15-page information item detailing the current state of Santa Monica’s shared mobility program, which includes class 1 and class 2 e-bikes, two-wheeled scooters, three-wheeled scooters and sit-down scooters. The study also compared usage to more traditional forms of transportation: driving (measured by way of parking transactions) and Big Blue Bus ridership.
The information item is the first information to come out of the current Shared Mobility Pilot Program, which began in July 2021. This is the second such Pilot Program undertaken by the City; the first began in 2018 and informed the current regulations.
All modes of transportation have been slow to recover from pre-pandemic levels, with average monthly shared mobility device usage over the past year less than half of what it was in the summer of 2019. Big Blue Bus ridership is also down from highs above 1.2 million riders per month in fall 2019 to between 400,000 and 600,000 riders per month on average in 2021. Parking transactions plummeted in March 2020 but have rebounded in waves that increased in summer months and slowed in the winter. Every month since February 2021, monthly average parking transactions have overtaken monthly Big Blue Bus ridership, which used to dwarf parking.
In the first nine months of the current Shared Mobility Pilot Program, participating companies Lyft, Spin, Veo and Wheels facilitated 602,304 trips in Santa Monica, according to the Department of Transportation data.
“Between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, 1,563 devices of the permitted fleet were available on average,” King wrote. “Operators did not deploy the fully permitted amount because demand has been suppressed by the pandemic.”
Current regulations allow up to 3,250 devices on Santa Monica roadways, should demand reach that level, meaning residents could see a doubling of current levels of scooters and bikes on area sidewalks.
The most popular form of shared mobility device is a two-wheeled e-scooter: According to a January 2022 survey conducted by the City, 73 percent of respondents had taken a two-wheeled e-scooter since the Pilot Program began in July 2021. A total of 700 such scooters are permitted to operate in city limits. The next most popular form of shared mobility device is a class 1 ebike, which is pedal operated with a maximum assisted speed of 20 miles per hour. Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents said they had taken one of the 600 permitted class 1 ebikes since July. About half of survey respondents said they had taken a two-wheeled e-scooter with a seat, 31 percent had taken a class 2 ebike (which does not require pedaling to operate) and just nine percent said they had taken a three-wheeled scooter.
King wrote that 299 people responded to the survey; full results were not yet available by Daily Press deadline and were expected in coming weeks.
One key adjustment between the initial Shared Mobility Pilot Program and the current Pilot Program is the placement of devices, which currently are required to be split up by companies into various zones.
“During the first Pilot Program, operators sought to deploy devices in areas that could generate the most trips and revenue, which often lead (sic) to limited access in some neighborhoods and an oversaturation in sensitive and congested areas like Downtown,” King wrote. “To remedy this challenge in the second Pilot Program, the City requires operators to deploy and maintain a daily device availability by dividing the operator’s fleet among eight deployment zones to ensure equitable access and limit occurrences of oversaturation.”
This means that, although the majority of shared mobility devices (about 30 percent) can still be found downtown, other zones are also regularly equipped with scooters and ebikes: 10 percent in the eastern end of NOMA, two percent in the western end of NOMA, 12 percent around Wilmont and western Mid-City, eight percent in the eastern end of Mid-City/Northeast Neighbors, 14 percent in Pico, 10 percent in Sunset Park and 14 percent in Ocean Park.
“As ridership levels increase, staff will continue to direct providers to meet the deployment thresholds established in each zone, building up to the maximum device count permitted,” according to the information item.
As for safety, there have been some key improvements over the past five years.
“The Pilot Program has facilitated several innovations including technology to limit sidewalk riding and improved safety and stability of shared mobility devices,” King wrote.
Some factors include improved devices, “innovative technologies” (that slow scooters and cause them to emit noise as they ride on sidewalks), and improved infrastructure through the 2020 Bike Action Plan Amendment. Since 2020, the City has installed or improved approximately 1.5 miles of protected lanes, according to the information item.
Since the time this second Pilot Program began, 16 injury collisions have been reported involving shared mobility devices, King wrote, citing Santa Monica Police Department data.
“Seven of the collision records do not indicate cause, while the other cited factors include improper turning, wrong side of road, impeding traffic, unsafe starting, and violating automobile right-of-way,” King wrote. “The data does not confirm which party was responsible.”
In the 273 days between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, City staff impounded 584 devices for ADA blockages and other violations, with 40 citations issued. That’s a rate of about 2.1 scooter/e-bike impounds per day of the study so far.
The current Pilot Program, which is set to run for a total of 21 months, is designed to result in a “contracted model” for shared mobility, meaning one or more vendors will supply all of the shared mobility services within city limits, allowing the City to have increased control over rates, maintenance and other regulations. Although the current Pilot Program is not set to be completed until April 2023, city council is scheduled to move forward into a next phase by late summer 2022