The San Diego City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee Wednesday voiced support for a suite of proposed regulations on dockless scooters and directed city staff to draft a fleshed-out version.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer introduced the proposed regulations Oct. 18 after the city spent months wrestling with how to both ensure public safety and allow dockless scooter companies like Bird, Lime and Razor to continue operating in San Diego. Faulconer’s plan would mandate that scooter companies limit the maximum speed of scooters in high-traffic areas of the city, send monthly data reports to the city detailing things like parking and trip information, educate riders on local traffic laws, and indemnify the city for liability for riders injured within city limits. The companies would also have to obtain an annual permit and pay associated operational fees.
“The rapid evolution of this industry is evidence of the popularity of dockless mobility devices as great options for folks who would like to leave their car at home,” Faulconer said when he announced the proposal. “As with many disruptive new technologies, there are issues that need to be addressed. First and foremost, public safety is our top priority and that will be reflected in these common-sense regulations.”
According to a spokesman for the mayor, Faulconer’s office intends to have the full proposal back before the council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee in early January. By that time, new council members could be seated in the wake of the November election. Once the committee approves the full regulatory proposal in early 2019, the full council will then consider it.
Councilwomen Barbara Bry and Lorie Zapf, who voted along with fellow committee members Chris Cate and Georgette Gomez in support of the concept, expressed concern about each company’s use and sharing of data with third parties. Zapf suggested that the companies are able to keep ride fares cheap because they make large amounts of money from data sharing. Representatives from Bird and Lime flatly denied the claim.
Residents voiced their opposition to the scooters at both the committee session and a meeting of the full City Council last month, when representatives from the three companies reported on ways they’re attempting to make the scooters safer to use in busy areas.
One part of the proposal by both Faulconer and the scooter companies is using the GPS information on each scooter to limit speeds from 15 mph to 8 mph in areas like Balboa Park, the downtown embarcadero and various boardwalks in Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla. This “geofencing” technology has been available for roughly six weeks, according to a Bird spokesman, and is already being implemented on the Santa Monica Beach Bike Path.
Zapf proposed a ban on the use of scooters on city boardwalks last spring, but the City Council voted against the proposal, 6-3.
Representatives of the public transit advocacy group Circulate San Diego and Razor USA joined Faulconer on Monday to discuss the proposal.
“Razor has a proven track record of working with cities to create shared scooter programs that best address their particular needs. Since we launched in San Diego, we have collaborated with the mayor’s office, City Council and city staff to create a great last-mile solution for the city,” said Razor Government Affairs Manager Brandon Cheung. “We support regulations that will continue to encourage San Diegans to leave their car at home while enhancing rider and pedestrian safety.”
Zapf and Bry suggested a similar amendment to the proposed regulations during the committee meeting but Cate nixed it, suggesting that there will be time to add amendments at a later date either during a full council meeting or when the proposal returns to committee. Zapf also expressed support for adding larger notifications on the scooters about local and state traffic laws.
“I don’t want people to be surprised, we don’t want to ding our tourists,” she said. “I’m not trying to be the fun police, I’m trying to be the safety police and I think there’s definitely a place for scooters … when responsible riders are riding them and they’re going to work and they’re doing the last mile.”
Bry said: “We’re already behind in getting something done. You understand the concerns that Councilmember Zapf and I have about their use in certain areas, so I think that needs to be looked at when we reconvene with a fuller framework to look at.”
Gomez said a lot of backlash to the scooters is due to riders using sidewalks because of a lack of suitable infrastructure to safely park and ride them on the street.
“I cannot stress that we need the infrastructure for safer mobility because it’s not going to get solved by today’s actions,” Gomez said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction, but at the end of the day, if we are not creating paths for people to take, they’re going to take what’s safe.”
Updated at 3:20 p.m. Oct. 24, 2018
— City News Service